We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is Thalidomide?

By Clara Kedrek
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGEEK is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGEEK, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Thalidomide is a medication perhaps best known for causing birth defects. In the middle of the twentieth century it was commonly given to pregnant women as a treatment for morning sickness. When many babies were born with a congenital defect called phocomelia, the drug was withdrawn from the market. Due to the tragic consequences of this medication, many countries adopted stricter drug testing requirements. Over the years researchers have found new applications of thalidomide, using it as a cancer treatment or as a therapy for leprosy.

The mechanism of action of thalidomide is to work as an anti-angiogenic agent, meaning that it serves to inhibit the growth and development of new blood vessels. It also has activity as an immunomodulator, modifying the activity of the body’s immune system. In addition, the medication alters levels of various neurotransmitters in the brain, resulting in sedation.

The discovery of thalidomide dates to the early twentieth century. Researchers noted its ability to decrease nausea, relieve pain, cause sedation, and alleviate headaches. These early investigators considered the drug to be safe for administration to all people. Due to its perceived safety and its efficacy in relieving symptoms of morning sickness and insomnia, many pregnant women were given the medication during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Unfortunately, an adverse effect of the medication was soon discovered. A significant percent of pregnant women who took the medication gave birth to babies with phocomelia, which is a condition characterized by underdeveloped limbs, decreased intelligence, and absent pelvic bones. The development of these birth defects shocked the public, and led to the adoption of stricter drug regulation policies in many countries throughout the world.

Although the use of thalidomide has a tragic history, the drug has found new applications over the years. Researchers have utilized the drug's anti-angiogenic properties in treating conditions such as multiple myeloma. Patients affected with a certain type of leprosy, known as erythema nodosum leprosum, often benefit from taking the medication. Researchers have investigated using the medication in conditions including chronic graft-versus-host-disease, Crohn's disease, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Today, the drug is marketed under the brand name Thalidomid® when used to treat these conditions.

Common side effects of thalidomide include sedation, fatigue, constipation, and weakness. Patients taking the medication have an increased risk of developing blood clots. Due to the infamous adverse effect of causing birth defects, prescription of the medication is carefully regulated by many countries. In the US, patients given the medication must be educated on the risks and benefits of the therapy. Reproductive-age women on the medication must be on a fail-safe method of birth control and obtain regular pregnancy tests.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

WiseGEEK, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGEEK, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.