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a sedative and hypnotic that was commonly used in Europe in the late 1950s and 1960s. Its use was halted because use during early pregnancy was often followed by the birth of infants with serious developmental anomalies, notably malformation or absence of a limb or limbs. It is still used in treatment of erythema nodosum that complicates therapy for leprosy, administered orally.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.



Pharmacologic class: Synthetic glutamic acid derivative

Therapeutic class: Immunomodulator, angiogenesis inhibitor

Pregnancy risk category X

FDA Box Warning

When taken during pregnancy, drug may cause severe, life-threatening birth defects or fetal death. Never administer to women who are pregnant or could become pregnant during therapy. Because of its toxicity and to reduce risk of fetal exposure, drug is approved for marketing only under special Food and Drug Administration-approved restricted distribution program, called System for Thalidomide Education and Prescribing Safety (S.T.E.P.S.TM). Only prescribers and pharmacists registered with program are allowed to prescribe and dispense drug. Also, patients must be advised of, agree to, and comply with program requirements.

Use of thalidomide in patients with multiple myeloma results in an increased risk of venous thromboembolic events (VTEs), such as deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Risk increases significantly when thalidomide is used in combination with standard chemotherapeutic agents, including dexamethasone. In one controlled trial, rate of VTEs was 22.5% in patients receiving thalidomide in combination with dexamethasone compared to 4.9% in patients receiving dexamethasone alone (p = 0.002). Patients and physicians are advised to watch for signs and symptoms of thromboembolism. Instruct patients to seek medical care if they develop signs and symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or arm or leg swelling. Consider thromboprophylaxis based on assessment of individual patient's underlying risk factors.


Suppresses excess levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha in patients with erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL). Alters leukocyte migration by changing cell surface characteristics.


Capsules: 50 mg, 100 mg, 200 mg

Indications and dosages

Cutaneous manifestations of moderate to severe ENL; to prevent and suppress recurrent ENL

Adults weighing 50 kg (110 lb) or more: 100 to 300 mg P.O. daily, or up to 400 mg P.O. daily, depending on disease severity or previous response. Continue therapy until symptoms of active reactions subside (usually after 2 weeks); then may taper in 50-mg decrements q 2 to 4 weeks.

Adults weighing less than 50 kg (110 lb): Initially, 100 mg P.O. daily, or up to 400 mg P.O. daily, depending on disease severity or previous response. Continue therapy until symptoms of active reactions subside (usually after 2 weeks); then may taper in 50-mg decrements q 2 to 4 weeks.

Newly diagnosed multiple myeloma (MM)

Adults: 200 mg P.O. once daily, in combination with dexamethasone 40 mg/day P.O. on days 1 to 4, 9 to 12, and 17 to 20 every 28 days.

Dosage adjustment

• Neutropenia

• Bradycardia

Off-label uses

• Aphthous stomatitis

• Wasting syndrome associated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

• Multiple myeloma

• Refractory Crohn's disease


• Hypersensitivity to drug or its components

• Pregnancy


Use cautiously in:

• neutropenia, bradycardia, peripheral neuropathy, hypotension, underlying malignancy, history of seizures or risk of seizures, risk of tumor lysis syndrome

• concurrent use of drugs that slow cardiac conduction, drugs that cause peripheral neuropathy (such as alcohol, amiodarone, bortezomib, cisplatin, disulfiram, docetaxel, metronidazole, paclitaxel, phenytoin, vincristine), and hormonal contraceptives

• concurrent use of opioids, antihistamines, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety agents, or other CNS depressants (avoid use)

• breastfeeding patients (use not recommended)

• children younger than age 12 (safety not established).


Follow all instructions provided by System for Thalidomide Education and Prescribing Safety (S.T.E.P.S.TM) program, accessible at

• Give with 8 oz of water just before bedtime, at least 1 hour after evening meal.

• Know that patients who need prolonged maintenance therapy to prevent cutaneous ENL recurrence and those who have flares during tapering should receive minimum effective dosage, with tapering attempted every 3 to 6 months. To taper, decrease dosage by 50 mg every 2 to 4 weeks.

Adverse reactions

CNS: drowsiness, dizziness, vertigo, sedation, tremor, asthenia, peripheral neuropathy, fatigue, confusion, anorexia, anxiety, agitation (with MM use), headache, seizures

CV: bradycardia, orthostatic hypotension, peripheral edema, deep vein thrombosis (with MM use)

EENT: rhinitis, sinusitis, pharyngitis

GI: nausea, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, oral moniliasis

GU: erectile dysfunction

Hematologic: leukopenia, neutropenia

Metabolic: hypocalcemia

Musculoskeletal: muscle weakness (with MM use), back pain

Respiratory: dyspnea, pulmonary embolus (with MM use)

Skin: dry skin, desquamation (with MM use), exfoliative, purpuric, bullous, or maculopapular rash; pruritus; fungal dermatitis; nail disorder; photosensitivity; toxic epidermal necrolysis, Stevens-Johnson syndrome

Other: weight gain or loss (with MM use), fever, tooth pain, chills, accidental injury, hypersensitivity reactions, increased HIV viral load, severe birth defects, fetal death, tumor lysis syndrome


Drug-drug. Barbiturates, chlorpromazine, reserpine, sedative-hypnotics, and other CNS depressants: increased sedation

Cardiovascular agents (such as alpha-and beta-adrenergic blockers, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, digoxin), neuromuscular blockers (succinylcholine), lithium, noncardiovascular agents such as H2 blockers (cimetidine, famotidine), tricyclic antidepressants: increased risk of bradycardia

Drugs linked to peripheral neuropathy: increased risk of peripheral neuropathy

Hormonal contraceptives: increased risk of thromboembolic disease

Drug-diagnostic tests. Alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, lactate dehydrogenase, lipids, liver function tests: increased values

Calcium, hemoglobin, neutrophils, white blood cells: decreased values

Drug-food. High-fat meal: interference with drug absorption

Drug-behaviors. Alcohol use: increased sedation, increased risk of peripheral neuropathy

Patient monitoring

Monitor for signs and symptoms of hypersensitivity reaction. If rash occurs, discontinue drug and contact prescriber immediately. Don't restart drug if Stevens-Johnson syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis, or exfoliative, purpuric, or bullous rash occurs.

Watch for and report signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. If symptoms develop, discontinue drug immediately. Usually, treatment with thalidomide should only be reinitiated if the neuropathy returns to baseline status.

• Assess CBC with white cell differential.

• Carefully monitor patient's reproductive status.

Monitor patients at risk for tumor lysis syndrome (such as those with high tumor burden before treatment) and take appropriate precautions.

Closely monitor patients with history of seizures or who are at risk for seizures for clinical changes that could precipitate acute seizure activity.

Observe patients (particularly patients being treated for MM) for signs and symptoms of thromboembolism.

• Monitor patients for bradycardia and possible syncope; dosage reduction or drug discontinuation may be required.

• Be aware that patients treated for MM who develop such adverse reactions as constipation or somnolence may benefit from temporarily discontinuing drug or continuing drug at lower dosage.

• Measure viral load after first and third months of treatment and every 3 months thereafter.

Patient teaching

• Instruct patient to take with 8 oz of water just before bedtime, at least 1 hour after dinner.

Tell patient to immediately report signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, tumor lysis syndrome, seizures, thromboembolism, bradycardia, or hypersensitivity reaction, especially rash.

• Teach patient about risks of fetal exposure to drug. Carefully review relevant portions of S.T.E.P.S.TM program with patient.

• Instruct female of childbearing age to use two highly effective birth control methods simultaneously, from 1 month before first thalidomide dose until 1 month after last dose.

• Explain mandatory pregnancy testing schedule to female patient, and stress importance of compliance.

Advise female patient to contact prescriber immediately if she suspects she's pregnant.

• Caution female patient not to breastfeed.

• Instruct male patient to use latex condoms during every sexual encounter.

• Tell patient that dizziness and orthostatic hypotension may occur. Advise patient to remain upright for a few minutes before standing up from a lying position.

• Tell patient to avoid alcohol and drugs that may cause drowsiness during drug therapy.

• Advise patient not to donate blood or sperm while taking this drug and for 4 weeks after stopping drug.

• As appropriate, review all other significant and life-threatening adverse reactions and interactions, especially those related to the drugs, tests, foods, and behaviors mentioned above.

McGraw-Hill Nurse's Drug Handbook, 7th Ed. Copyright © 2013 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved


A hypnotic drug that, if taken in early pregnancy, may cause the birth of infants with phocomelia and other defects; approved for used in the treatment of erythema nodusum leprosum and under investigational use in other clinical areas.
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


A sedative and hypnotic drug, C13H10N2O4, withdrawn from general use after it was found to cause severe birth defects when taken during pregnancy. It is currently used to treat leprosy.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
A drug first marketed as a sedative and sleeping aid, and used extensively in Europe during the late 1950s, which caused 12,000–15,000 cases of embryopathy occurring at day 45–55 of gestation—one dose was enough to cause the defects, often in the form of phocomelia or ‘flipper’ extremities
Mechanisms of teratogenicity The most plausible mechanism is thalidomide’s binding to and inactivation of the protein cerebron, which is critical in limb formation. Thalidomide has undergone a renaissance of interest and is in clinical trials for a wide array of conditions, due to its inhibition of TNF-alpha production, cytokine modulation and antiangiogenesis
Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.


 Therapeutics A drug first marketed as a sedative and sleeping aid, which caused 12,000-15,000 cases of embryopathy, often in the form of phocomelia or 'flipper' extremities New indications Thalidomide may be effective in combating wasting in AIDS Pts–especially with oral ulcers, as well as rheumatoid arthritis, photodermatitis, Behçet's disease, SLE, GVHD, asbestosis, IBD, lepromatous leprosy–erythema nodosum leprosum, possibly TB; it is antiangiogenic, stops menstruation and may be useful for neoangiogenesis in macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. See Angiogenesis inhibitors GI disease Benefits Pts with refractory Crohn's disease, due to TNF-α inhibition Oncology Thalidomide has orphan drug status for treating refractory myeloma, possibly due to thalidomide's inhibition of angiogenesis and modulation of cytokines; it may be used for Pts with head & neck SCC. , and as an ancillary therapy in KS, melanoma, brain, breast, prostate CAs.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A hypnotic drug that, if taken in early pregnancy, may cause the birth of infants with phocomelia and other defects; approved for use in the treatment of erythema nodusum leprosum and under investigational use in other clinical areas.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


A drug (Distaval and many other brand names) that was widely advertized as a safe sedative. In 1961 it was found that, when given to pregnant women, it caused severe bodily malformation of the fetus with stunting of the limbs, which were often replaced by short flippers (phocomelia), and other congenital defects. Thalidomide is an ANGIOGENESIS inhibitor, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulator and has been found useful in the treatment of erythema nodosum leprosum, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, HIV-associated Kaposi's sarcoma, a range of cancers, and Behçet's syndrome. It was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of leprosy in 1997.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


a drug prescribed for morning sickness during pregnancy which has been found to cause severe foetal abnormalities such as limb deformation, and has now been withdrawn.
Collins Dictionary of Biology, 3rd ed. © W. G. Hale, V. A. Saunders, J. P. Margham 2005


A hypnotic drug that, if taken in early pregnancy, may cause the birth of infants with phocomelia and other defects; approved for used in the treatment of erythema nodusum leprosum and is also under investigational use in other clinical areas.
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
In his autobiography - You Can't, You Won't: A Life of Unarmed Combat - he wrote: "Even h a r d - ened health profes- sionals seemed to demonstrate a horror of the Thalidomide victims, and tended to encourage parents to put their children away into institutions."
Experts now estimate thalidomide caused 10,000 babies to be still-born or miscarried in the UK alone.
Harald Stock, then the firm's chief executive, said: "We see both the physical hardship and the emotional stress that the affected, their families and particularly their mothers, had to suffer because of thalidomide and still have to endure day by day."
In this study, we investigated the mechanism of PYR-41 and thalidomide on cross-presentation by observing myddosome formation, endosomal recruitment of p97 and Sec61, inhibition of NF-[kappa]B, and cross-priming ability.
Thalidomide had been feted as a wonder drug - until thousands of children were born in the 1950s and 1960s with deformed and stunted limbs after their mothers took the medicine to control morning sickness.
A primary benefit of our synthetic method over previous thalidomide syntheses methods includes the ability to modify the phthalic ring (Figure 1, moiety (A)).
Although thalidomide dispensing for conditions other than those approved by the health authority (i.e., Hansen's disease type 2 reaction, aphthous ulcers in AIDS, lupus erythematosus, graft versus host disease and multiple myeloma) was not allowed in 2001, one patient with renal cancer and another with prostate cancer received the drug.
The UK-wide ShowYourHand campaign includes 39 surviving thalidomide victims in Wales.
EDRIC, which runs the DysNet online network, was set up to bring together thalidomide groups and other organisations dealing with limb loss and deficiency across Europe.
The drug Thalidomide was given to expectant mothers between 1958 and 1961 to control symptoms of morning sickness but it led to babies being born physically disabled.