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Biologics for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
abatacept Orencia
adalimumab Humira
anakinra Kineret
certolizumab Cimzia
etanercept Enbrel
golimumab Simponi
infliximab Remicade
rituximab Rituxan
tocilizumab Actemra

How It Works

Biologics block harmful responses from the body's immune system that lead to the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Why It Is Used

Biologics are used to treat moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and to prevent joint damage, particularly in people who have had side effects or poor results from other medicines such as methotrexate.

Biologics are usually used after nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and methotrexate have been tried. A biologic is often used at the same time as other medicines.

How Well It Works

Biologics can slow joint damage, limit symptoms, and improve function in people who have rheumatoid arthritis.1, 2

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call911or other emergency services right away if you have:

Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Signs of illness or infection, such as chills, cough, or fever.
  • Chest pain or tightness.
  • A rash on your head, face, or belly.
  • Belly pain or fullness.
  • Lower back or side pain, especially with painful urination.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Painful throat.
  • Redness, itching, or swelling at the injection site.
  • Skin problems, such as bleeding, blistering, or crusting.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Warnings have been issued about the serious side effects of biologics. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the drug's manufacturers have warned about:

  • An increased risk of a serious infection. Biologics affect the body's ability to fight all infections. So if you get a fever, cold, or the flu while you are taking this medicine, let your doctor know right away.
  • An increased risk of blood or nervous system disorders. Call your doctor if you have symptoms of blood disorders (such as bruising or bleeding) or symptoms of nervous system problems (such as numbness, weakness, tingling, or vision problems).
  • An increased risk of lymphoma (a type of blood cancer) in children and adolescents who take this medicine for longer than 2½ years (30 months). Adults, children, and adolescents who take this medicine also have a higher risk for leukemia and other cancers.
  • An increased risk of liver injuries. Call your doctor if your skin starts to look yellow, if you are very tired, or if you have a fever or dark brown urine.
  • An increased risk of psoriasis.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

Citations

  1. Drugs for rheumatoid arthritis (2009). Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 7(81): 37–46.

  2. Shah A, St. Clair EW (2012). Rheumatoid arthritis. In DL Longo et al., eds., Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 18th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2738–2752. New York: McGraw-Hill.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Nancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
Current as of June 5, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 05, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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