Glatiramer acetate is a multiple sclerosis (MS) drug. Sold under the brand name Copaxone, it’s a medicated injection specifically designed for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS).

The medication helps prevent relapses in MS. It also helps prevent symptoms that affect basic brain functions and muscle use. The injections may have long-term benefits, but there are also potential side effects.

Many doctors prefer to wait and see how someone progresses before prescribing injections after a single attack. This is due to the potential side effects of other MS medications. However, this is not the case with glatiramer acetate, which is designed to help with mild MS.

Since the purpose of the drug is to prevent relapses, your doctor may recommend injections soon after an MS diagnosis. An MS diagnosis requires a clinical exam, as well as an MRI.

Your doctor may prefer to administer your first injection so they can watch for side effects. In clinical trials, about 16 percent of people experience side effects immediately after an injection of glatiramer acetate. Side effects include:

  • anxiety
  • flushing
  • breathing difficulties
  • chest pain
  • rapid heart rate
  • skin reactions, such as swelling, itching, or a rash

Generally, these symptoms ease within an hour. You may experience minor versions of these side effects after each injection. Report symptoms that worsen to your doctor right away.

Many people experience mild side effects from glatiramer acetate. Most of these clear up within a few weeks of starting the medication. Call your doctor if the symptoms worsen or don’t go away.

Among the most common side effects are:

  • skin rashes
  • runny nose
  • weight gain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • body pain and weakness
  • depression
  • skin problems at the injection site, such redness, swelling, itching, or lumps
  • chest pain
  • changes in heart rate
  • cold or flu-like symptoms
  • sweating more than usual

Other side effects associated with glatiramer acetate are similar to symptoms of MS. The difference is that medication side effects are persistent and may worsen. Examples include:

  • excessive fatigue
  • tremors
  • shaking hands
  • speaking difficulties
  • joint pain
  • confusion

Allergic reactions have been reported with glatiramer acetate. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing if you’re allergic to the medication before taking it. Tell your doctor if you have allergies to other medications or have had bad reactions to other immunomodulators.

Signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • hives
  • redness all over the body
  • breathing difficulties
  • face and body swelling
  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • very low blood pressure

Your first dose of the injection is administered at your doctor’s office. Previously, the standard dosage for glatiramer acetate was 20 milligrams every day. As of January 2014, you have the option to take double the dose (40 mg) three times a week instead.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed a one-year study that showed the higher dose to be safe and beneficial in people with MS.

There are other differences between the doses to consider. First, each 40-mg injection should be 48 hours apart or longer. The 20-mg doses should be administered 24 hours apart, around the same time of day, every day.

Also, you should not mix dosage-amount routines. Know how to tell the dosages apart. The 20-mg dose of the injection comes with a white plunger. The doubled 40-mg dose has a blue one.

Use each syringe only once. Sometimes extra medication remains in the syringe. Don’t reuse it.

Many people with RRMS prefer glatiramer acetate over other types of immunomodulators because the side effects are milder. However, as with other MS drugs, there are long-term risks associated with these injections.

According to the manufacturer’s product prescribing insert, glatiramer acetate may increase your risk for developing cancers. It can also suppress your immune system, making you more prone to infections.

Glatiramer acetate is beneficial for many people with RRMS looking to prevent future MS attacks. It can also help reduce the symptoms that affect your daily mobility.

Still, the injections aren’t right for everyone. Discuss all MS medication options with your doctor. Call your doctor immediately if you experience unusual side effects after using glatiramer acetate.