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General overview

Pegasys is a trade name for the medication called peginterferon alfa-2a which is a synthetic version of interferon produced by the body's immune system. This medication is indicated for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C infection.

Peginterferon alfa-2a can be used as a stand alone treatment, but it can be combined with medications such as ribavirin, boceprevir and telaprevir.

Precautions when using this medication

There are certain medications which are contraindicated to be used with peginterferon alfa-2a, as well as medications which need to be used with caution when combined with it. These medications include the following:

  • Telbivudine (contraindicated).
  • Didanosine (when using ribavirin).
  • Theophylline
  • Methadone.

Patients going on this medication also need to inform their doctor if they have or have a history of certain medical conditions. This is very important since these medical conditions can either reduce the efficacy of the medication, or the medication can worsen the patient's medical condition. These issues may include the following:

  • Kidney or lung diseases such as pneumonia.
  • Heart or blood vessel disease including heart rhythm issues such as arrythmias.
  • Eye problems such as optic neuritis.
  • Chest pain.
  • Bleeding problems and anaemia.
  • Hyper- or hypoglycaemia.
  • Hypertension.
  • History of or current mental health issues.
  • Active infection.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • History of ischaemic incidences such as strokes.
  • Thyroid disease.
  • Liver disease (medication is contraindicated here).
There are certain situations that patients need to be aware of and these will be listed here.

 

  • Regular visits to the prescribing doctor are important to make sure there aren't any unwanted side-effects and to make sure that the medication is working properly.
  • Women using this treatment should not become pregnant as it can cause birth defects. Adequate birth control must be used by both male and female patients for up to 6 months after treatment is completed. Female patients need to have a pregnancy test done every month while on treatment and for 6 months after the last dose, too.
  • Peginterferon alfa-2a can cause some people to become irritable and agitated. It can also cause some patients to become depressed and start having thoughts of suicide. The prescribing doctor needs to be made aware of this situation immediately.
  • This medication can cause the white cell and platelet levels in the blood to drop which can increase the risk of infection and bleeding, respectively. It's important then to try and avoid contact with people who have active infections as well as let your doctor know if you're experiencing any abnormal or prolonged bleeding. Also, anyone who experiences passage of bloody or black, tar-like stool should seek immediate medical attention.
  • Pancreatitis is another concern when using this medication. Let your doctor know if you experience signs and symptoms such as central abdominal pain which refers to the back, fever, nausea and vomiting.

Side-effects

The more serious and life-threatening issues have been mentioned above but it's also important to mention some issues which may worry patients. These are self-limiting problems which do tend to resolve on their own. They include the following:

  • Diarrhoea.
  • Back pain.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Scaly, dry skin.
  • Reddening of the skin.
  • Thinning hair or hair loss.
  • Muscle or joint pain.
  • Shivering, feeling cold.

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