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Thalidomide: Information, Uses & Side Effects

  • Date: 2015/08/18
  • Thomas C. Weiss - Disabled World
  • Synopsis : Information regarding Thalidomide, used alone or with other medications for symptoms of erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL); fever, episodes of skin sores, as well as nerve damage from Hansens disease or leprosy.

Main Document

Thalidomide is used in conjunction with dexamethasone to treat multiple myeloma in those who have been recently discovered to experience the disease. Thalidomide is also used alone or with other medications to prevent and treat skin symptoms of erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL); fever, episodes of skin sores, as well as nerve damage that happen in people with Hansen's disease or leprosy. Thalidomide is in a class of medications referred to as, 'immunomodulatory agents.' It treats multiple myeloma by strengthening the person's immune system to fight cancer cells. It treats ENL by blocking the action of certain natural substances that cause swelling.

Thalidomide currently sold as Immunoprin, Talidex, Talizer, or Thalomid, is an immunomodulatory drug and the prototype of the thalidomide class of drugs. Thalidomide is used for a number of conditions including erythema nodosum leprosum, multiple myeloma (in combination with dexamethasone), and various other cancers, for some symptoms of HIV/AIDS, Crohn's disease, sarcoidosis, graft-versus-host disease, rheumatoid arthritis and a number of skin conditions that have not responded to usual treatment.

Using Thalidomide

Thalidomide comes in capsule form and is taken orally. It is usually taken with water once each day at bedtime and at least an hour after an evening meal. If you are taking thalidomide to treat ENL, a doctor might tell you to take it more than one time each day, at least an hour after meals. Take the medication at around the same time every day. Follow the instructions on the prescription label carefully and ask a doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not fully understand. Take thalidomide precisely as you are directed to. Do not take more or less of the medication or take it more often than it has been prescribed to you.

Keep the capsules in their packaging until it is time to take one. Do not open the capsules, or handle them more than you need to. If you skin comes into contact with broken capsules or powder, was the area that has been exposed with soap and water.

The length of a person's treatment depends on how their symptoms respond to thalidomide and whether their symptoms return after they stop taking the medication. A doctor might need to interrupt your treatment, or reduce your dosage, if you experience certain side-effects. Do not stop taking thalidomide without consulting your doctor. When your treatment is complete, your doctor will most likely gradually decrease your dose.

Additional Uses for Thalidomide

At times, thalidomide is also used to treat skin conditions involving irritation and swelling. It is also used to treat some complications of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) such as, 'aphthous stomatitis,' a condition in which ulcers form in a person's mouth, HIV-associated diarrhea, HIV-associated wasting syndrome, certain infections and Kaposi's sarcoma, a form of skin cancer. Thalidomide has been used to treat some types of tumors and cancer, severe weight loss in people with weakened immune systems, chronic graft versus host disease, as well as Crohn's disease. It is always a good idea to contact your doctor about the risks of using any medication, to include thalidomide.

Thalidomide Special Precautions

Before taking thalidomide it is important to tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are allergic to the medication or any other medications. It is important to tell your doctor if you have HIV, AIDS, or seizures. Tell your doctor if you are breast feeding. Other things to know prior to taking thalidomide include:

  • Alcoholic beverages can make the side-effects of thalidomide worse.
  • Thalidomide may make you drowsy; do not drive a car, operate machinery, or pursue other types of activities that require you to be completely alert until you are aware of how the medication affects you.
  • Thalidomide is present in the blood and bodily fluids of people taking the medication. Anyone who might come into contact with these fluids should wear gloves, or wash any areas of skin that have been exposed with soap and water.
  • Thalidomide might cause lightheadedness, dizziness or fainting when you get up too quickly from a lying position. To help with avoiding this issue get out of bed slowly, resting your feet on the floor for a few minutes before you stand up.

Tell your doctor and pharmacist what other medications you are taking, both prescription and nonprescription; nutritional supplements, vitamins and herbal products are ones you need to tell your doctor about as well. Be certain to mention the medications listed in the, 'Important Warning,' section and any of the following:

  • Sedatives
  • Reserpine
  • Vincristine
  • Didanosine
  • Barbiturates
  • Tranquilizers
  • Sleeping pills
  • Chlorpromazine
  • Antidepressants
  • Certain chemotherapy medications for cancer
  • Medications for anxiety, mental illness, or seizures

A doctor might need to change the dosages of your medications, or monitor you carefully for side-effects. Unless your doctor tells you differently, continue your usual diet. If you forget to take a dose of thalidomide, take the missed dose as soon as you remember it. If it is less than 12 hours until your next scheduled dose; however, skip the missed dose and continue your usually scheduled dose. Do not take a double dose of thalidomide to make up for one that has been missed.

Thalidomide Side-Effects

Thalidomide may cause certain side-effects. Some of these side-effects are not pleasant and may be serious. Contact your doctor if any of the following symptoms are severe, or fail to go away:

  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Dry skin
  • Seizures
  • Pale skin
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Hoarseness
  • Constipation
  • Weight changes
  • Change in appetite
  • Slow or fast heartbeat
  • Blistering and peeling skin
  • Depression or mood changes
  • Bone, muscle, joint, or back pain
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
  • Difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection
  • Swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
  • Swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, or eyes
  • Fever, sore throat, chills, cough, or other signs of infection

Thalidomide might cause nerve damage that is both severe and permanent. The damage may happen at any time during or after treatment. A doctor will examine you on a regular basis to see how thalidomide has affected your nervous system. If you experience tingling, numbness, a burning sensation in your feet or hands, or pain, it is important to contact your doctor at once. The medication might cause other side-effects as well; contact your doctor if you experience any unusual symptoms while taking thalidomide.

Storing and Disposal of Thalidomide

Keep thalidomide in the container it came in, out of reach of children and tightly closed. Store the medication at room temperature and away from excess moisture and heat. Throw away any thalidomide that is outdated or you no longer need.

In case of an overdose, contact your local poison control center. If the person taking thalidomide has collapsed or is not breathing, call 911 at once. Keep all of your appointments with your doctor. Your doctor will order certain laboratory tests to check on your body's response to thalidomide.

It is important to keep a written list of all of the medications you are taking, both prescription and nonprescription, as well as any products such as minerals, vitamins, or other dietary supplements. You need to bring the list with you every time you visit your doctor, or if you are admitted to a hospital. It is also important information to have with you in the event of an emergency.

Learn More

  • Thalidomide
  • Facts about thalidomide
  • Thalidomide: Research advances in cancer and other conditions

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