Thalidomide (Generic Name)

Other Names: Thalomid®

About this drug

Thalidomide is a drug used to treat cancer.

Possible side effects

  • Severe, life-threatening birth defects if taken by a woman who is pregnant. Thalidomide should never be used by women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant while taking the drug. Even 1 capsule taken by a pregnant woman can cause severe birth defects. You will receive written information and counseling about the risk of birth defects.
  • Allergic reactions. Allergies to this drug are rare but may occur in some patients. Signs of allergic reactions to this drug may include a rash and/or fever, chills, dizziness, feeling your heart beat rapidly (palpitations), and shortness of breath. If you have any of these symptoms, do not take another dose of this drug. Seek immediate medical treatment.
  • Drowsiness. Some patients build up a tolerance to the sedative (sleepiness) effect of thalidomide. You may notice your drowsiness decreases after several weeks of treatment.
  • Rash. The rash is usually red and itchy. It may occur on the chest, back, arms, or legs.
  • Constipation
  • Numbness, tingling, pain, or burning sensation in the feet or hands
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty in walking or changes in the way you walk
  • Clumsiness when buttoning clothes, opening jars, or doing other routine activitie
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, and/or feet
  • Sudden dizziness after standing from a reclining or sitting position
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Mood changes
  • Sensitivity to light (photosensitivity). Photosensitivity (fo-to-sen-suh-TIH-vuh-tee) means that you may become more sensitive to the effects of the sun, sun lamps, and tanning beds. Your eyes may water more, especially in bright light.
  • Blood clots (rare). A blood clot in your leg may cause your leg to swell, appear red, feel warm, and/or cause pain. A blood clot in your lung may cause shortness of breath, pain when breathing, and/or chest pain.
  • Decrease in white blood cell count. This may increase your risk for infection. Your blood counts will be monitored as needed.

Treating side effects

  • Use effective methods of birth control during your cancer treatment. Your doctor will talk to you about this.
  • If you are drowsy, do not drive a car or operate machinery. Avoid alcohol and medicines that may cause drowsiness, such as sedatives, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. You may want to try taking thalidomide in the evening to decrease daytime drowsiness.
  • If you develop a rash, do not take another dose of thalidomide until you speak with your doctor. Do not put anything on your rash unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry.
  • If you feel dizzy when you first stand up, try sitting upright for a few minutes before standing up from a reclining position.
  • Be careful when you are cooking, walking, and handling sharp objects or hot liquids.
  • If you are constipated, ask your doctor or nurse for medications and diet tips that may help you move your bowels regularly. Do not use enemas, laxatives, or suppositories without first checking with your doctor or nurse.
  • Cover up when you are in the sun. Wear wide-brim hats, long-sleeve shirts, and pants. Keep your neck, chest, and back covered.
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher when you are in the sun even for a short time. Avoid sun lamps, tanning booths, and tanning beds.

Food and drug interactions

There are no known interactions of thalidomide with any food. This drug may interact with other medicine. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all of the medicines that you are currently taking.

When to call your doctor

Call your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cramping or pain in your leg
  • Swelling or redness and warmth of your leg
  • Rash
  • Temperature of 100.5 F (38 C) or above
  • Chills
  • Confusion


Call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Numbness, tingling, pain, or a burning feeling in your feet or hands
  • Difficulty in walking or changes in the way you walk
  • Abdominal pain
  • No bowel movement for 3 days or if you become uncomfortable
  • Dizziness, drowsiness, and/or fatigue that interferes with normal activities
  • Swelling in your legs, feet, or ankles 

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA