December 18, 2003
Health Canada is warning health-care professionals of the risks of using beta-interferon therapy for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
Serious liver injury such as hepatitis has been linked to beta-interferon therapy, including three cases of liver failure that required liver transplantation, the department said in a release. Serious liver injury is considered rare, with cases mostly occurring in the early months of therapy but also in patients on therapy beyond one year, it noted.
The department reminded treating physicians they should perform periodic liver function tests, particularly in the early months of therapy, and patients receiving beta-interferon products should be aware of the signs and symptoms of liver injury.
Those symptoms include yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice), nausea and vomiting, easy bruising of the skin, diffuse itching and abdominal pain.
Beta-interferon is one several treatments some people with multiple sclerosis take to try to reduce the frequency and severity of MS attacks.
The beta-interferon treatments are marketed under the names Avonex, made by Biogen Idec Canada; Betaseron, made by Berlex Canada and Rebif, made by Serono Canada.
A spokeswoman for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada said specialists and the patients they treat have likely been aware of these risks.
"Yes, it certainly is known. But whether or not a GP (general practitioner) would have that top of mind, that's something I would not be able to answer," Deanna Groetzinger said.
"It's a simple thing to monitor, but you have to do it."
Health Canada said MS patients receiving beta-interferon therapy who
experience any of the above symptoms should contact their doctors immediately.
Copyright © 2003, Canadian Press