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Glatiramer for Multiple Sclerosis

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
glatiramer Copaxone

How It Works

Glatiramer is an artificial protein that resembles a natural myelin protein. It is not known exactly how the medicine works. But it may help people who have multiple sclerosis (MS) by preventing the body's immune system from attacking the myelin coating that protects nerve fibers.

Glatiramer is given as an injection beneath the skin one time a day.

Why It Is Used

Glatiramer is used to treat people with MS who have relapses followed by periods of recovery (relapsing-remitting MS). Findings from clinical trials show that people treated soon after being diagnosed with MS may have better results than those who delay treatment.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends that people who have a definite diagnosis of MS and active, relapsing disease start treatment with interferon beta or glatiramer. This groups adds that treatment with medicine may also be considered after the first attack in some people who are at a high risk for MS.1

Some people have only one episode of a neurological symptom such as optic neuritis. Yet MRI tests suggest these people have MS. This is known as a clinically isolated syndrome. Many of these people go on to develop MS over time. In some cases, doctors will prescribe medicine (either interferon beta or glatiramer) for people who have had a clinically isolated syndrome. These medicines, when taken early or even before you have been diagnosed with MS, may keep the disease from getting worse or may extend your time without disease.2

How Well It Works

Glatiramer significantly reduces the frequency of relapses in those who have relapsing-remitting MS. It also slows the number of new lesions (tissue damage) as seen on MRI and decreases disability.3

Glatiramer has not been shown to be effective for people who have secondary progressive MS. Also, the medicine is not helpful for people who have primary progressive MS.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Chest pain.
  • Rash or skin changes at an injection site.
  • Signs of an infection, such as a sore throat, fever, sneezing, or coughing.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • A reaction to the medicine after injection. Injection reactions can include:
    • Anxiety.
    • Chest pain.
    • Flushing.
    • Fast or irregular heartbeat.
    • Tightness in the throat.
  • Itching at the injection site.
  • Nausea.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Follow your doctor's instructions on how to use this medicine. Do not give yourself an injection in the same place as your previous injection. Always change the site of the next injection.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends that people with a definite diagnosis of MS and active, relapsing disease start treatment with interferon or glatiramer. The group adds that medicine may also be considered after the first attack in some people at high risk for MS but before it is diagnosed.1

In addition to side effects, there are some drawbacks to treatment with glatiramer:

  • Treatment does not work for some people. And it is hard to predict whether the medicine will help a particular person.
  • For people who have mild MS, the benefits may not be worth the possible risks.
  • Treatment is costly.

If you are taking glatiramer, do not stop taking it without first talking with your doctor.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. National Clinical Advisory Board of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (2008). Disease Management Consensus Statement. New York: National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Available online: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/for-professionals/healthcare-professionals/publications/expert-opinion-papers/index.aspx.
  2. Faggiano CM, et al. (2008). Recombinant interferon beta or glatiramer acetate for delaying conversion of the first demyelinating event to multiple sclerosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2).
  3. Mikol DD, et al. (2008). Comparison of subcutaneous interferon beta-1a with glatiramer acetate in patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis (the REbif vs Glatiramer Acetate in Relapsing MS Disease [REGARD] study): A multicentre, randomised, parallel, open-label trial. Lancet Neurology, 7(10): 903–914.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Barrie J. Hurwitz, MD - Neurology
Last Revised May 14, 2012

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