The Side Effects of Alpha Interferon: Rashes & Pimples

Alpha interferon is used as a treatment for chronic hepatitis C. The drug is administered by subcutaneous or intramuscular injection. During lab testing, a wide array of side effects have been encountered. Dr. Geoffrey Dusheiko of the Free Hospital and School of Medicine in London reports that between 10 percent and 15 percent of patients find chronic side effects unbearable, causing discontinuation of treatment.

  1. Dermatological

    • Dermatological side effects include rashes, outbreaks, hair loss and skin lesions. Erythema multiforme, the most common rash side effect of alpha interferon, involves blood vessel and skin tissue damage that is excruciatingly irritating. Mild hair loss is quite common, but reversible once treatment is completed or discontinued. Furthermore, alpha interferon treatment can cause psoriasis, a skin condition that causes extreme irritation and redness, or can aggravate existing psoriasis. Lichen planus, a common side effect of hepatitis C, is a rash on the skin and around the mouth whose itch can be exacerbated by alpha interferon treatment.

    Cardiovascular

    • Three cardiovascular diseases have resulted from alpha interferon treatment: arrhythmia, ischemic heart disease and cardiomyopathy. These side effects are extremely rare, but have been known to happen. In his study on alpha interferon, Dusheiko revealed that these diseases are likely to have occurred as a result of complications between alpha interferon, cardiotoxic drugs a patient was taking prior to and during treatment, and existing coronary artery disease.

    Ophthalmological

    • Ophthalmological side effects of alpha interferon include retinal abnormalities such as retinal hemorrhages and cotton wool spots. These side effects arise more commonly in patients who are diabetic and hypersensitive. These side effects are reversible upon treatment completion or discontinuation. However, a few cases have been encountered where patients experienced acute visual loss. Furthermore, retinal ischemia, a common cause of vision loss and blindness, has also been recorded as a rare side effect of alpha interferon.

    Immune System

    • Alpha interferon has immunomodulatory properties that can cause antibody titters, autoimmune thyroiditis, hypothyroidism, and hyperthyroidism. Furthermore, according to the website Hepatitis Central, 2.5 percent to 20 percent of patients who encounter these problems live with them for the rest of their lives. Patients who are genetically predisposed to thyroid problems are more susceptible to these side effects. In extreme cases, especially if a patient develops hyperthyroidism, patients are forced to discontinue alpha interferon treatment.

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