MS Medications and Their Side Effects
The problem with having a disease, especially a chronic disease, is that you don’t struggle with just the disease — you are also facing the treatment for it.
Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) is hard. We have to face the uncertainties of MS in itself while also managing side effects of incredibly potent and, oftentimes, risky medications.
It is not a wonder why there are many people who have been diagnosed that forgo the use of disease-modifying therapies altogether. I can understand the struggle — however, it is possible to live a full and healthy life with MS, and it is more likely when you take your medicine.
Fortunately, we have many more options than we did a few years ago. Let’s take a look and sort out all the good and the bad that can come from whatever path you choose.
In the beginning, there was nothing — well until sometime in the 90s when Copaxone (glatiramer acetate) came out onto the market. Copaxone is an injectable medication that has shown to reduce relapse rates, but has not shown a reduction in clinical disability over time.
The side effects of Copaxone are:
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling at the injection site
More serious symptoms include problems with the heart, liver, gastrointestinal, hematopoietic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, nervous, respiratory, and urogenital systems.
Copaxone was the first on the market for MS and unfortunately carries a large amount of side effects with less effectiveness. There is now a generic form on the market that is called Glatopa, which is a 20mg dose of glatiramer acetate.
The next drugs to come to market were the interferons. This group also comes in the injectable form. The variance of these medications is usually a matter of choosing a different size dosage that can fit your lifestyle.
These drugs are:
- Avonex (interferon beta-1a)
- Betaseron (interferon beta-1b)
- Extavia (interferon beta-1b)
- Plegridy (peginterferon beta-1a)
- Rebif (interferon beta-1a)
The side effects that come along with these meds are all about the same no matter which you choose. The difference is the side effects will stretch for different lengths of time based upon the dosage size and intervals that are set for your given medicine.
The side effects for interferons are:
- Hepatic injury
- Anaphylaxis or an allergic reaction
- Depression and suicide
- Congestive heart failure
- Injection site necrosis and reactions
- Thrombotic microangiopathy
- Flu-like symptoms
- Complex and drug-induced lupus erythematosus
Most people will feel like they have the flu and get an injection site reaction. The more severe side effects are unlikely; nevertheless, with these and any other drugs, the risks must be taken into consideration.
Interferons have been around for many years now. There are many choices for people to find an interferon that can fit into their lifestyle.
Also, interferons are more effective than Copaxone in reducing both relapse rates and clinical disease progression.
Zinbryta (daclizumab) is another injectable, administered once a month. However, this medication is more risky and is saved for people who have tried two or more other medications without avail.
The potential side effects of Zinbryta are:
- Allergic reactions
- Serious problems of the liver, kidney or heart
- Swollen lymph glands
- Swelling of the face, tongue or throat
- Trouble breathing
- Depression and suicide
Injectable medicines have more than their fair share of side effects, and for a long time that was all we had to choose from.