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Do you need to worry about side effects from taking Anti-Malaria Tablets?

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease that is caused by parasites which typically infect mosquitos who feed on human blood. Malaria is a preventable disease. However, in 2020 WHO reported 626,000 deaths worldwide from the disease. The majority of people who become infected with malaria have not taken anti malaria tablets or have taken them incorrectly. The main reason people tend to avoid taking anti malaria medication is because of the side effects associated with them. Do you need to worry about side effects from taking anti malaria tablets?

How to take malaria tablets

Your GP will be able to advise you which anti malaria medication is best for you to take, dependent on if you’re travelling to somewhere in which you should be protected from the disease. The highest risk regions are Asia, South America and West Africa. Dependent on your medical history, or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, certain anti malaria tablets may not be suitable for you. More factors to consider include the cost of the anti malaria medication and how soon you are travelling. Some anti malaria tablets have to be taken three weeks before you go on your holiday.

The first thing to do is to check whether the area you’re travelling to is on a list which means there is a risk of malaria. Travel Health Pro has more detailed information regarding high risk regions. To protect against malaria, bite prevention is the first line of defence in some places. Use insect repellent, wear appropriate clothing and use nets where possible. NHS Fit For Travel provides information on how to stay safe when travelling and is a great resource to use if you are concerned about malaria, as well as any other diseases that you could potentially get whilst in the area. It’s also useful for seeing which vaccines are required for travelling to different countries.

Malaria medication types

There are different types of anti malaria medication available and the best anti malarial tablets with the least side effects will depend on your medical history. Reading about the side effects caused by any medication can be daunting and put people off taking them. However, it’s important to take the risks into perspective. All possible side effects must be listed on medication, no matter how rare the side effect is. The majority of people who take the medication will never have any rare side effects. Even common side effects may not be experienced by up to 90% of patients who consume the medication. Malaria is a very serious disease, and it is far more likely for malaria to be fatal compared to the medication used to prevent it. There are different malaria medication types available.

Side effects of extremely common with any type of drug. A ‘very common’ side effect means it’s a symptom which affects 1 in 10 people. A ‘common’ side effect will impact 1 person in 100. The most common side effects of anti malaria medication are: nausea, abdominal pain, headaches and diarrhoea. Other side effects include a fever, cough, mood changes, abnormal dreams or having a decreased appetite. This will impact between 1% and 10% of users. Side effects are typically mild and will settle within a few days of taking anti malaria tablets.

Very rare side effects of anti malaria medication are seizures, panic attacks and psychosis. However, these are so rare that there are no statistics to show the frequency of them occurring.

In the majority of cases, side effects of anti malaria tablets can be easily managed. For example, to avoid an upset stomach, eat plain foods until symptoms pass. In some instances, it’s a good idea to trial the anti malaria medication before you travel. Lariam (Mefloquine) must be taken three weeks before your holiday, so that the user has time to switch to an alternative if notable side effects develop.

One of the most popular drugs for short holidays is Malarone. It needs to be taken for 1-2 days before you go on holiday, daily throughout your time in the country and then for a further week upon return. It’s the best anti malaria tablets with least side effects if you are planning on going on a short trip away. However, if you are travelling for a while then it may not be suitable as it can be quite expensive. It’s also not suitable if you are pregnant. The most common side effects of taking Malarone are headaches and an upset stomach. This effects can lessen as your body becomes used to taking it.

Lariam (Mefloquine) is highly effective and great for long-term travel. It only has to be taken once a week rather than daily. This can make it easier if you are concerned you will forget how to take malaria tablets. When you return from travelling, it must be taken once a week for four weeks. However, Lariam (Mefloquine) is associated with more serious side effects, including anxiety and depression. If you suffer from mental health conditions or epilepsy, this will not be the best anti malaria tablets with least side effects. Your GP will not prescribe you Lariam if you suffer or have suffered from any mental health conditions.

Book a consultation with a pharmacist or GP in order to discuss the travel plans you have and obtain anti malaria tablets.

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