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Rheumatoid Arthritis Drugs Tied to Skin Problems

Study Links Humira, Remicade, and Enbrel to Skin Conditions
WebMD Health News

April 4, 2005 -- Dutch researchers have linked a group of rheumatoid arthritis drugs to skin problems.

Humira (adalimumab), Remicade (infliximab), and Enbrel (etanercept) are mentioned in the study, which appears in the journal Arthritis Research and Therapy.

All of those medications are biologic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). They are a new type of treatment approach that inhibits TNF, a chemical made by the body to induce inflammation. These chemical substances lead to joint inflammation seen in RA.

The study "shows that dermatological conditions are a significant and clinically important problem in RA patients receiving TNF-alpha-blocking therapy," write the researchers.

Out of 289 RA patients taking biologic agents, 72 (25%) consulted a dermatologist about skin problems over an average of two years. In comparison, in a group of RA patients who had never received these drugs, 37 (13%) consulted a dermatologist. The comparison group tended to have less severe cases of RA, say the researchers.

Most Common Problems

There were a total of 128 skin problems among the 72 patients taking biologic agents who had consulted a dermatologist. Their most common conditions were skin infections (33 cases), eczema (20 cases), and drug-related skin eruptions (15 cases). None required hospitalization but seven patients decided to stop taking the drugs because of skin problems.

The number of skin problems reported during or after treatment was 56 for Humira, 49 for Remicade, and 16 for Enbrel, write the researchers, who included Marcel Flendrie of Radboud University Njimegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands.

Most of the skin eruptions occurred in the first five months of treatment with the biologic agents and were caused by all of the drugs, the researchers report. Reports of skin problems had surfaced in study trials of the drugs but this is the first large study that tracked problems as they unfolded, say Flendrie and colleagues.

Who Took What Drugs

The group included 70 patients who were taking more than one TNF blocker. Eight patients took more than two anti-TNF drugs, say researchers.

Humira was taken by 108 patients, Remicade by 167, and Enbrel by 78 people.

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