What are the side effects of interferons?
Common side effects of interferons (that may occur with all interferons) include flu-like symptoms following each injection such as:
These side effects vary from mild to severe and occur in up to half of all patients. The symptoms tend to diminish with repeated injections and may be managed with analgesics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) and antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
Tissue damage at the site of injection occurs with all of the interferons but more commonly with interferon beta-1b and pegylated interferon alfa-2b.
Other important side effects that may occur with all interferons, and that may be caused by higher doses are:
- Abdominal pain
- Joint aches
- Back pain
- Increased heart rate
- Low white blood cell count
- Low platelet count (thrombocytopenia)
- Low red blood cell count
- An increase in liver enzymes
- An increase in triglycerides
- Skin rashes
- Mild hair loss or hair thinning
- Swelling (edema)
- Difficulty breathing
- Allergic or anaphylactic reaction
Some interferons are associated with liver failure and periodic liver function tests are recommended during therapy.
Depression and suicide have been reported among patients receiving interferons; however, it is unclear whether depression and suicidal thoughts are caused by the diseases being treated or the interferons themselves. Therefore, all patients receiving treatment with an interferon should be observed for the development of depression and suicidal thoughts.
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For what conditions are interferons used?
Since interferons enhance the immune system in many ways, they are used for many diseases that involve the immune system. For example:
- interferon alfa-2a (Roferon-A) is FDA-approved to treat hairy cell leukemia, AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma, and chronic myelogenous leukemia.
- interferon alfa-2b is approved for the treatment of hairy cell leukemia, malignant melanoma, condylomata acuminata, AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma, chronic hepatitis C, and chronic hepatitis B.
- Ribavirin combined with interferon alfa-2b, interferon alfacon-1 (Infergen), pegylated interferon alfa-2b, or pegylated interferon alpha-2a, all are approved for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C.
- interferon beta-1b (Betaseron) and interferon beta-1a (Avonex) are approved for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
- interferon alfa-n3 (Alferon-N) is approved for the treatment of genital and perianal warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).
- interferon gamma-1B (Actimmune) is approved for the treatment of chronic granulomatous disease, and severe, malignant osteopetrosis.
- peginterferon beta-1a (Plegridy) is used for treating multiple sclerosis (MS)
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