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Multiple Sclerosis, the Interferon Drugs, and Copaxone

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Your body makes interferons naturally. Three forms of them-- alpha, beta, and gamma -- control the activity of your immune system. But doctors also can use a man-made version of them to treat multiple MS, especially interferon beta.

Interferon beta medications make flares happen less often. They might also slow down how quickly symptoms get worse and help people have less physical disability over time.There are five types of interferon beta on the market in the U.S. They’re FDA-approved for relapsing forms of MS:

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Avonex. You take it once a week as a shot into your muscle. People who start taking it in the early stages of multiple sclerosis may be able to go longer before any physical disabilities begin or get worse.

Betaseron. This comes as a shot that goes into the layer of fat just under your skin. You’ll need it every other day.

Extavia. This one also comes as an injection that goes just under the skin every other day.

Plegridy. You can take this interferon less often than the other types -- a shot every 2 weeks. The way it’s made makes it last longer in your body.

Rebif. You get this drug three times per week as an injection under your skin.

Side Effects of Interferon Meds

When you take these medicines, you might have other health problems, such as:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, chills, fever, muscle aches, and sweating during the first weeks of treatment. To keep those from slowing you down, it's best to take the shot at bedtime. You can take pain and fever relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, before each injection and during the 24 hours after one to help relieve these problems.
  • Swelling, redness, and pain at the place where you get the shot. If the spot gets hard, call your doctor. Don’t give yourself another shot into that site.
  • Trouble with your mood. You might feel sadness, anxiety, irritability, guilt, trouble concentrating, confusion, and have a hard time sleeping or eating. Tell your doctor about these symptoms right away.
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