MS Symptoms or Drug Side Effects: Telling the Difference

When MS patients suffer infections, colds or allergies, they don’t always know whether the symptoms are due to MS or another problem. This is because multiple sclerosis affects the nervous system in so many different ways that it can cause everything from slight numbness in the extremities to total blindness and paralysis. As a result, patients are always on the alert for symptoms of fatigue, pain and other issues that could be MS symptoms or drug side effects. Recognizing MS symptoms is key to keeping treatment on track and getting the best results. Below is a look at common MS symptoms and medication side effects.

MS Symptoms or Drug Side Effects: Telling the DifferenceFatigue

Four out of five patients living with MS report suffering from chronic fatigue. However, interferon drugs that are often used in MS treatment can also make patients sleepy.


Depression is another common symptom among MS patients, but it’s also a known side effect of several interferon drugs. Researchers are still unclear on whether the drugs cause or only worsen patients’ depression.

Chest Pain

Some MS patients suffer from aching or burning feelings around their chest. Other patients describe sharp pains in the chest area. At the same time, chest pain can be caused by fingolimod, a newer MS drug. Fingolimod can negatively affect heart function for six hours after a dose. Due to the dangers involved, the drug is usually administered in a hospital setting, where the patient’s heart can be monitored.

Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms are common side effects of several interferon drugs, including Betaseron, Rebif, INF-B and Avonex. Many patients suffer fever and aches about an hour after being injected with these medications. For some patients, these flu symptoms can worsen their existing multiple sclerosis symptoms.


Headaches aren’t classified as symptoms of multiple sclerosis, but certain severe types of headaches are more common among MS patients. For example, cluster headaches and migraines can cause terrible long-lasting pain for patients.

Side Effects or MS Symptoms?

The line between MS symptoms and drug side effects isn’t always clear, but one way to tell the difference is to track the beginning of side effects compared to dosing times. In most cases, MS drug side effects begin around an hour after injection and go away after a few more hours. In the case of Avonex, however, side effects can remain for days afterwards. Side effects of other interferons tend to last for around eight hours. When symptoms don’t leave, they are more likely to be caused by multiple sclerosis rather than a medication.

The tips above are sure to help patients tell the difference between drug side effects and multiple sclerosis symptoms, but patients should remain cautious. When there is doubt about the cause of symptoms, it’s best to call a medical professional experienced with MS. By speaking with a physician or nurse as soon as symptoms appear, there will be no delay in the process of sorting drug side effects, MS symptoms and problems from other health conditions that may be present.

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