Having rheumatoid arthritis can be a pain, literally. Joints ache and are stiff, and the chronic struggle with discomfort can wear you down and make you depressed and unhappy. Fortunately, there are medications like Humira that can brighten up your life again, help you feel better, and allow you to move around with less pain. But should you take them? Are they right for your needs, and are they safe? Getting those types of questions answered can help you work with your doctor to determine if Humira is right for you. Here’s what you need to know about this particular medication, what it can do to help, and its side effects.
People take Humira to treat rheumatoid arthritis that is moderate or severe. These patients are looking for pain relief, but they also need to stop their rheumatoid arthritis (RA) from getting any worse. When they take the right medications, either alone or in combination with one another, they improve their chances of feeling better and slowing the progression of their disease. If you have RA, you know it’s not like “standard” arthritis, where you have stiffness and pain but no real progression of any disease process. While arthritis typically strikes older people, RA can occur in anyone, including younger people and even children.
Some people take Humira alone, and others take the drug with methotrexate or another type of RA medication. Which option is right for you is something for your doctor to decide, but it can be affected by how severe your RA already is when you are diagnosed, how fast it seems to be progressing, and other factors. How well Humira works for you and what other medications you are already taking also matter, so it’s very important to be up front with your doctor about other treatments you are trying and any medications you are taking, including other RA medications, over the counter options, and even supplements.
There are side effects that can occur with Humira. Most of them are minor, but some can be very serious. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of a Humira side effect, so you can tell your doctor right away if something isn’t right or if you are experience health problems that could be related to the medication. The most common side effects you will see with Humira are:
But these are not the only side effects you may experience, as there are more serious side effects that do sometimes occur. You should call your doctor if you experience:
Most people will be able to take Humira successfully for their RA, and they will not experience these serious side effects, but it is important to know what to look for. Because Humira reduces your ability to fight infection and suppresses your immune system, fatal infections and some cancers have occurred or worsened in patients who are taking this medication. Tell your doctor if you have a history of infection or cancer, including whether you have an active or current problem, or have had problems with these issues in the past. That way you and your doctor can work together to make a decision on your treatment.
Humira has been shown to be effective in many patients, although not everyone who takes the drug sees a big improvement. Controlled, randomized studies have been done to examine the effectiveness of Humira when it comes to treating RA. Some have evaluated the drug on its own, while others have looked at it paired with methotrexate or other types of RA medications. At the six-month mark, more than 60% of patients reported satisfactory and noticeable results, and these results were greatest when Humira was combined with methotrexate.
A “major clinical response” was experienced by 20% of patients after six months of taking Humira. This indicates that, while the drug is effective on its own and in combination with other medications, it does not work for everyone. Some people do not respond to Humira as well as others do, and some have adverse side effects that cause them to stop taking the medication. The only way to know whether Humira will work for a particular person is to try, and that should only be done after your doctor has evaluated your risk factors to determine if Humira is likely a safe medication for you to try for relief of your RA symptoms.
Humira is taken by subcutaneous (under the skin) injection once every week, in most cases. A typical dose is 40 mg, but not all patients take this dose. Additionally, some patients benefit much more strongly from weekly injections, so talking to your doctor about what is right for you and your RA symptom relief is a very important part of your treatment. You want to have the best chance of seeing a good outcome and a high level of symptom relief if you decide to take Humira, and your doctor can help you find the dosage and medication combination that will be right for you.
Patients will be taught how to take Humira, and how to inject the drug safely. Don’t take Humira if you haven’t been taught how to inject yourself correctly, as improper injection of the drug can cause harm. Ask your doctor if you’re unsure about anything relating to the drug, and make sure you take any missed dose of Humira as soon as you remember. Then take your next dose as the scheduled time, so you can get back on schedule and work toward improvement of your RA symptoms.