Can aerobic exercise alleviate flu-like symptoms following interferon beta-1a injections in patients with multiple sclerosis?

Martin Langeskov-Christensen, Tue Kjølhede, Egon Stenager, Henrik Boye Jensen, Ulrik Dalgas

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Flu-like symptoms (FLS) are common side effects of interferon beta (IFNß) treatment, and may affect the willingness to initiate therapy, the long-term acceptability, and the adherence to the treatment. Case reports suggest that aerobic exercise is able to markedly reduce FLS following IFNß-1a injections in persons with multiple sclerosis (PwMS).

OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that aerobic exercise can alleviate FLS following IFNß-1a injections in PwMS, and secondarily to examine whether or not fluctuations in circulating cytokines provide a mechanism that can explain a potential positive effect.

METHODS: Seventeen PwMS who frequently experience FLS following IFNß-1a injections completed four days of testing. On two of the testing days they completed 35min of aerobic exercise on a bicycle-ergometer following IFNß-1a injection. On the two other testing days, no intervention took place following the injection. FLS were assessed pre-injection and 3h, 5h, 12h and 24h post-injection. Blood samples were taken pre-injection and 1h and 3h post-injection to determine levels of circulating interleukin 6 and 17 and IFNγ. The primary study endpoint was the comparison of the change in FLS severity from pre-injection to 5h post-injection between days with injection alone and days with injection followed by aerobic exercise.

RESULTS: FLS severity change was significantly lower on days with exercise compared to days with rest. IL6 was significantly increased 3h following IFNß-1a injection and exercise compared to 1h post and pre and when compared to the resting condition. Participants reported no adverse events in addition to FLS during the study period.

CONCLUSION: Data from this study suggest that moderate intensity aerobic exercise following IFNß-1a injections is safe and can alleviate the FLS severity in PwMS. Based on these results, 35min of aerobic exercise should be encouraged for PwMS who often experience FLS following IFNß-1a injections.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of the Neurological Sciences
Pages (from-to)114-120
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Journal Article


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