Is it the medication or the flu?

One common side effect when people first start their MS medications is a general feeling of being unwell. This is described as a "flu-like" side effect. People may experience muscle aches, fever, chills, and weakness when they are beginning MS treatments.

Fortunately, these effects usually disappear over time. Some people find that acetaminophen or ibuprofen, both available without a prescription, may also help relieve these flu-like side effects if taken half an hour before the MS medication. People may also find it useful to "sleep off" these flu-like effects by taking their MS medication right before bedtime. Ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your MS medication can cause flu-like symptoms and what you can do to manage them.

In regards to the actual flu, the North American flu vaccine (or "flu shot") is developed each year to work against 3 strains of influenza virus, based on trends seen in the Southern Hemisphere. It is unlikely that the flu shot would help relieve the flu-like side effects of MS medications, since it works on the body in a different way. However, in addition to proper and frequent handwashing, the most effective way to decrease complications and reduce the impact of influenza is to get the flu shot as a preventative measure.

For people with MS, it may be wise to get the flu shot. Interestingly, there has been some debate on whether it is safe to do so. Most experts recommend that people with MS receive the flu shot, since influenza can trigger an MS attack (also known as a relapse). It is estimated that 1 in 3 patients will experience a relapse after catching an influenza virus. People who got the flu shot have a much lower risk of having a relapse (estimated to be 1 in 20 people). People taking interferon medications should have a blood test before receiving the vaccine.

Talk to your doctor if you are considering getting the flu shot.

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