Glatiramer for multiple sclerosis

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Glatiramer for multiple sclerosis


Generic NameBrand Name

How It Works

Glatiramer (formerly known as copolymer-1) 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 fibres.

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

Why It Is Used

Glatiramer may be used to treat people 18 years or older who have relapsing-remitting MS.

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 extend your time without disease.1

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.2

Glatiramer doesn't cause the flu-like symptoms that interferon medicines can cause.

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

Some people may have temporary side effects right after the shot (post-injection reaction), which can include:

  • Pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site.
  • Flushing.
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath similar to that experienced in a heart attack.
  • Anxiety.
  • Tightness in the throat.

These side effects are usually mild and go away on their own shortly after the injection. You may have one or several brief episodes of these side effects during your treatment with glatiramer.

Although less common, other side effects may occur, including:

  • Weakness.
  • Nausea.
  • Joint pain.
  • Severe muscle tension or spasticity.
  • Skin rash.
  • Impotence or decreased interest in sex.

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

What To Think About

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.4 The Canadian MS Clinics Network and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (MSSC) stress the importance of early treatment for MS. 3

The safety of glatiramer during pregnancy and breast-feeding is not known. Talk to your doctor if you are planning a pregnancy, if you are pregnant, or if you are breast-feeding.

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

  • Treatment is not effective at all for some people. And it is hard to predict whether the medicine will help a particular person.
  • The long-term risks of treatment are unknown. It is possible that long-term use of the medicine may lower the body's defense against other diseases. For people with mild MS, the benefits may not be worth the possible risks.
  • Treatment is costly. Your provincial health plan may cover most or all of the cost of your medicine. Ask your doctor or contact your provincial health plan for more information.

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

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



  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (1999). Consensus statement urges early treatment and wider access for MS drugs. Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. Available online:
  4. National Clinical Advisory Board of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (2007). Disease Management Consensus Statement. New York: National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Available online:


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Colin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology
Last Revised April 15, 2010

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