Thalidomide Side Effects

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Thalidomide is well known for its damaging effects on the unborn baby when taken by a pregnant mother. Some of the side effects of taking this medication are described in more detail below.

  • No pregnant woman should take thalidomide in any form. In pregnant women, the drug crosses the placenta (the organ that supplies nutrients to the baby in the womb) and affects the developing fetus. These babies are born with limbs, feet or hands that are either missing (amelia) or abnormal (phocomelia). Other defects include abnormal or absent ears, heart and kidney problems, cleft palate, spinal cord defects and digestive disorders.
  • Thalidomide has the potential to cause peripheral neuropathy in the body, especially in the extremities. This can lead to pain, tingling and numbness in the affected areas.
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Constipation
  • A severe and permanent drop in blood pressure referred to as refractory hypotension.
  • Deep vein thrombosis may develop, particularly when thalidomide is combined with dexamethasone in the treatment of multiple myeloma.
  • High doses of thalidomide can cause pulmonary edema, aspiration pneumonia and atelectasis of the lungs.
  • Patients who take thalidomide in combination with zoledronic are at risk of kidney damage and renal failure. This drug regimen is used to treat people with osteoporosis.
  • Allergic reactions can occur in some individuals.
  • Drowsiness is a common side effect of thalidomide and people should not operate heavy machinery or drive while using this medication. Alcohol consumption can also worsen the side effects.
  • Some individuals develop dizziness, light-headedness, confusion or vertigo.
  • Psychological side effects include anxiety, depression, mood swings and insomnia.
  • Other side effects include bone, muscle, joint, or back pain; dry, itchy skin and swelling in the hands, ankles or feet.

Reviewed by , BSc

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Last Updated: Jan 11, 2015

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