Treating Multiple Sclerosis With Rebif

What You Need to Know About this Interferon Medication

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Taking Rebif for Multiple Sclerosis
Taking Rebif for Multiple Sclerosis. Anthony Lee/Getty Images

Rebif (interferon beta 1-a) is one of several disease-modifying therapies for treating relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). Like other interferon therapies, Rebif can lower the number of relapses a person with RRMS has by about a third. This is great, of course, but there are important things to know about Rebif, including its advantages over other medications as well as disadvantages and potential side effects.

Pros and Cons of Taking Rebif

Rebif needles are very tiny and injections are subcutaneous—in other words, the needle has to go in just under the skin, which can be less painful than deeper injections. On the other hand, Rebif has a low pH, so it's acidic and that can make it hurt a bit more when it's injected. Also, Rebif needs to be taken three times a week, while some other interferons require injections just once a week.

If you're on Rebif, you'll need to have regular bloodwork to check for low blood cell counts and liver problems and you'll also need to be monitored closely for depression. It's good to note, though, that there's research to suggest depression is less of a risk with Rebif than with similar medications.

In addition, Rebif is convenient to travel with: It comes in prefilled syringes (no mixing) and it doesn't have be kept cold in a refrigerator.

Potential Side Effects

The side effects of Rebif are similar to those of other interferon-based therapies.

  • Flu-Like Symptoms. These include fever, chills, sweating, muscle aches, and fatigue lasting for eight hours or longer. These symptoms usually are worse after the first injection and progressively lessen with each injection. One way you may be able to avoid dealing with flu-like symptoms of Rebif is to start with a low dose and increase to a full dose gradually over several weeks. Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen a couple of hours before and after you injecting Rebif also may help ease symptoms.
  • Red Spots. You might see these pop up on your skin where you insert the needle. The spots can last several weeks and in rare instances break down into sores, which is called injection-site necrosis. Rotating the areas where you give yourself shots can help lower the risk of skin reactions.
  • Liver Damage. Some people taking Rebif have experienced elevated blood liver enzyme levels and liver inflammation. Your doctor will monitor the health of your liver regularly while you're on Rebif but you also should look out for signs of a potential problem. If you notice that you begin bruising easily or that your skin or the whites of your eyes begin to look yellow, see your doctor right away.
  • Changes in Blood. Rebif can lower the amount of red and white cells in your blood, as well as cause a reduction in the number of platelets, which help blood clo).
  • Allergic Reactions: Although rare, some people have had an allergic reaction to Rebif after the first dose or even after several doses.

It may not be safe for someone with a seizure disorder to take Rebif, and women who are pregnant definitely shouldn't use this drug: Animal studies have found it can harm fetuses. If you're on Rebif and you want to get pregnant, your doctor may have you stop taking Rebif for one to three months before you begin trying to conceive.

Sources:

Manfredonia F, Pasquali L, Dardano A, Iudice A, Murri L, Monzani F. "Review of the Clinical Evidence For Interferonβ 1a (Rebif) in the Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis.NeuropsychiatrDisTreat. 2008 Apr;4(2):321-36.

National MS Society. "Disease-Modifying Therapies for MS." 2016.

PRISMS Study Group. "PRISMS-4: Long-Term Efficacy of Interferon-Beta-1a in Relapsing MS." Neurology 2001;56: 1628-1636.

Panitch H, Goodin DS, Francis G, et al. "Randomized, Comparative Study of Interferon Beta-1a Treatment Regimens in MS: The EVIDENCE Trial." Neurology 2002;59:1496-1506.

Smith B et al. "Drug Review: Disease-Modifying Drugs for Multiple Sclerosis: Final Update 1 Report." Portland (OR): Oregon Health and Science University; 2010 Aug.

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