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Treating RA With Biologics: Medications at a Glance

Biologic drugs work on your immune system to curb joint inflammation and damage in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In RA, your immune system is overactive, targeting and damaging your joints.

Biologic drugs are used to treat moderate to severe RA. Your doctor might prescribe one by itself or with another type of RA drug. You take them by infusion or injection -- the method and dose, and whether you can take them at home, depend on the particular drug.

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Rheumatoid arthritis treatment includes medications that slow the progression of joint damage from rheumatoid arthritis. These drugs are called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and they are an important part of an overall treatment plan. What are these drugs, and how do they work? Disease-modifying drugs act on the immune system to slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. This is why they are called "disease-modifying." Many different drugs can be used as DMARDs in the treatment...

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Because all biologics dampen your immune system, your doctor will carefully monitor you to make sure you don't get an infection or other serious side effects while you're taking it. You should also be up to date on all your vaccinations. With any of these drugs, tell your doctor if you're pregnant, planning to get pregnant, or are breastfeeding.

Actemra (tocilizumab)

How you take it: by infusion or injection

How often you take it: monthly infusions or injections every week or every other week

Most common side effects: cold, sinus infection, headache, high blood pressure, liver test abnormalities

Your doctor should:

  • Test you for tuberculosis and hepatitis before you take it.
  • Monitor you for tuberculosis or other infection while you're taking it.

How it works: Doctors call this type of a drug an IL-6 blocker. IL-6 is a chemical your body makes that causes inflammation.

Cimzia (certolizumab)

How you take it: by injection

How often you take it: Usually every 2-4 weeks (your doctor will decide)

Most common side effects:   flu or cold, rash, urinary tract infections      

Your doctor should:

  • Test you for tuberculosis and hepatitis before you take it.
  • Monitor you for tuberculosis or other infections while you're taking it.

How it works: Doctors call this type of a drug a "TNF blocker" since it targets tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a chemical your body makes that causes inflammation.

Enbrel (etanercept)

 How you take it: by injection

How often you take it: 1-2 times/week

Most common side effects: skin reactions or pain where you get the shot, sinus infections, headache.

Your doctor should:

  • Test you for tuberculosis and hepatitis before you take it.
  • Monitor you for tuberculosis or other infection while you're taking it.

How it works: Doctors call this type of a drug a "TNF blocker" since it targets tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a chemical your body makes that causes inflammation.

Humira (adalimumab)

 How you take it: by injection

How often you take it: once every two weeks

Most common side effects: colds, sinus infection, headache, and rash

Your doctor should:

  • Test you for tuberculosis and hepatitis before you take it.
  • Monitor you for tuberculosis or other infections while you're taking it.

How it works: Doctors call this type of a drug a "TNF blocker" since it targets tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a chemical your body makes that causes inflammation.

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