Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone) is an injectable drug that treats relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis in adults. It’s a man-made version of a protein similar to one found in myelin, an insulating layer that protects many of the nerves in your body.
Copaxone blocks T cells that can damage the myelin. It can also lower the number of relapses you have and make the ones you do have less severe.
Copaxone is an option for people who have one of these types of relapsing MS:
- Clinically isolated syndrome
- Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS)
- Active secondary progressive MS (SPMS with relapses)
What Can Copaxone Affect?
Copaxone can affect several parts of your body, including:
Your immune system. Copaxone is an immunosuppressant drug. These are medicines that suppress or turn off your immune system. It keeps your body from attacking your myelin. But doctors don’t know specific details about how the drug stops the body from damaging itself.
Because Copaxone weakens your immune system, you would have a higher chance of catching things like a cold or the flu. Infections could also be more likely.
In some cases, the skin underneath where the needle went in might die. This is called necrosis. Or your injection may damage the fatty tissue under the skin where you give yourself the injections. Your doctor might call that lipoatrophy.
It's important that you don’t use the same spot twice in a row for injections. Also make sure that you keep track of the places you use. Don’t inject in any spot where your skin looks red, bruised, or infected.
Your heart. Chest pain can be a serious side effect of Copaxone. It usually happens a month or more after you start to take the medicine. But it could happen any time. The pain often goes away on its own. But let your doctor know if your pain is severe, comes on suddenly, or lasts longer than a few minutes.
You might also notice a fast or irregular heartbeat. If it happens right after you give yourself an injection and lasts longer than a few minutes, call your doctor. There’s also a chance you could have high blood pressure.
Your airway. Copaxone may cause trouble breathing or tightness in your throat. You should call your doctor right away if breathing gets difficult or if you feel like your throat is closing up. This feeling often goes away on its own a few minutes after injection, but it can be an emergency.
Your digestive system. Copaxone can trigger:
In rare cases, it also may cause:
Your liver. Copaxone can lead to liver problems, including liver failure and hepatitis. These can happen anywhere from a few days to a few years after you start treatment. If you have signs of any liver problems, your doctor will probably suggest a new treatment.
Other effects. Copaxone can affect your body in other ways, including:
- Abnormal dreams
- Vision problems
- Breathing problems
- Sudden, exaggerated mood changes
- Strong urges to poop
- Muscle tightness
- Trouble concentrating
- Tooth decay
- Urinary issues
If you have any of these, contact your doctor.