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Multiple Sclerosis, Copaxone, and the Interferon Drugs

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Side Effects of Interferon Drugs:

  • Flu-like symptoms (fatigue, chills, fever, muscle aches, and sweating during initial weeks of treatment. Therefore it's recommended that the injection be taken at bedtime. Taking Tylenol, Advil, or Motrin before each injection and during the 24 hours after the injection may help relieve the symptoms
  • Reactions at the site of injection (swelling, redness, discoloration, and pain). Contact your health care provider if the injection site becomes hardened. Do not inject into that site.
  • Interferon drugs can cause ongoing sadness, anxiety, irritability, guilt, poor concentration, confusion, and difficulties sleeping or eating. These symptoms should be reported to a health care professional immediately.


  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding or trying to become pregnant should not use interferon drugs; birth control measures should be used.
  • People with a history of depression should be closely monitored and interferon drugs can worsen depression symptoms.
  • These drugs can affect the functioning of the liver. Avonex has been linked to severe liver injury, and liver failure in a few patients taking the drug. Therefore your doctor will perform regular blood tests to be sure the liver is functioning normally.
  • Interferon drugs can affect the blood cells and thyroid gland function as well. Therefore, your health care provider will perform regular blood testing to follow this.


Copaxone is an artificially made protein that resembles a protein that is part of the myelin that surrounds nerves. It is not known exactly how the drug works, but it appears to alter the activity of the immune system.

Copaxone is FDA approved for treatment of relapsing-remitting forms of MS. It is injected subcutaneously (under the skin) three times per week.

Like the interferon beta drugs, Copaxone has been shown to reduce the frequency of relapses.

The side effects of Copaxone include:

  • Pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site. Injection sites should be rotated according to a schedule provided by your health care provider.
  • Chest pain or tightness, heart palpitations, anxiety, flushing, and difficulty breathing.


    • Do not use this drug if you are pregnant. If you are planning to become pregnant, it's recommended that you discuss changes in your medication regimen prior to pregnancy.
    • Discuss the safety of taking this drug while breastfeeding with your health care provider.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on February 22, 2015
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