Do interferons increase the risk of stroke in the treatment of MS?

Evaluating the safety of β-interferons in MS: A series of nested case-control studies

de Jong HJI, Kingwell E, Shirani A, et al

Neurology 2017; 88:2310-2320



To examine the association between interferon-β (IFN-β) and potential adverse events using population-based health administrative data in British Columbia, Canada.


Patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) who were registered at a British Columbia Multiple Sclerosis Clinic (1995-2004) were eligible for inclusion and were followed up until death, absence from British Columbia, exposure to a non-IFN-β disease-modifying drug, or December 31, 2008. Incidence rates were estimated for each potential adverse event (selected a priori and defined with ICD-9/10 diagnosis codes from physician and hospital claims). A nested case-control study was conducted to assess the odds of previous IFN-β exposure for each potential adverse event with at least 30 cases. Cases were matched by age (±5 years), sex, and year of cohort entry, with up to 20 randomly selected (by incidence density sampling) controls. Odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were estimated with conditional logistic regression adjusted for age at cohort entry.


Of the 2,485 eligible patients, 77.9% were women, and 1,031 were treated with IFN-β during follow-up. From the incidence analyses, 27 of the 47 potential adverse events had at least 30 cases. Patients with incident stroke (ORadj 1.83, 95% CI 1.16-2.89), migraine (ORadj 1.55, 95% CI 1.18-2.04), depression (ORadj 1.33, 95% CI 1.13-1.56), and hematologic abnormalities (ORadj 1.32, 95% CI 1.01-1.72) were more likely to have previous exposure to IFN-β than controls.


Among patients with RRMS, Interferon-β was associated with a 1.8- and 1.6-fold increase in the risk of stroke and migraine and 1.3-fold increases in depression and hematologic abnormalities.

This abstract is included in the neurochecklist:

Disease modifying treatments (DMTs): interferons

Abstract link

By Artwork by Holly Fischer – – CNS Slide 9, CC BY 3.0, Link

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