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Thalidomide is used in the treatment and prevention of skin inflammation in patients who have moderate to severe leprosy. It is also used with other medicines in patients who have moderate to severe nerve inflammation due to leprosy and along with dexamethasone to treat patients with multiple myeloma (cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell).

How it works

Thalidomide belongs to a class of medications called immunomodulatory agents. It treats multiple myeloma by strengthening the immune system to fight cancer cells. It is useful in leprosy by blocking the action of inflammatory substances that cause swelling and pain.

Common side effects

Peripheral neuropathy, Blood clot in the lungs, Rash, Bradycardia, Bronchopneumopathy, Cardiac failure, Chills, Confusion, Constipation, Coordination impaired, Decreased blood cell count, Deep vein thrombosis, Depression, Dizziness, Dry mouth, Dry skin, Dysaesthesia (unpleasant sensation felt when touched), Shortness of breath, Fever, Interstitial lung disease, Lung infection, Sleepiness, Swelling, Toxic skin eruption, Tremor, Vomiting, Weakness, Abnormal sensation in skin


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Expert advice

  • Use an effective method of contraception for 4 weeks before starting treatment, during treatment, and until 4 weeks after stopping treatment. 
  • Before taking thalidomide inform your doctor if you have had a heart attack, have ever had a blood clotting related disorder, or if you smoke, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, have existing slow heart rate (this may be symptoms of bradycardia), existing neuropathy i.e. tingling, abnormal co-ordination or pain in your hands or feet, sleepiness, a condition called Tumor Lysis Syndrome, severe infections. 
  • Consult a doctor if you develop allergic reaction such as rash, itching, swelling, dizziness or trouble breathing during thalidomide therapy. 
  • Avoid donating blood during thalidomide treatment and for 1 week after stopping treatment. 
  • Do not drive or operate machinery as thalidomide may cause fatigue, dizziness, somnolence and blurred vision.
  • Tell your doctor if you are or planning to become pregnant or are breastfeeding.

Content on this page was last updated on 30 September, 2016, by Dr. Varun Gupta (MD Pharmacology)