Adalimumab Frequently asked Questions & Answers
This information has been provided with kind permission from Crohn’s and Colitis UK - a nationwide charity committed to providing information and support, funding crucial research and working to improve healthcare services for anyone affected by Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
For further information please download the full patient publication from Crohn’s and Colitis UK
OTHER NAMES FOR THIS MEDICINE
Adalimumab is sometimes known by the brand name ‘Humira’
How long will it take to work?
You may begin to feel better within a few days or it may take up to three months after the first treatment session.
How is adalimumab given?
Adalimumab is given as a subcutaneous injection (injection under the skin). It cannot be taken orally (in tablet form), because your digestive system would destroy it.
Your adalimumab treatment will be supervised by a specialist doctor experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of IBD. To begin with, a doctor or nurse will give you the injections. Once you are used to having the treatment you may be able to self-inject, if you and your doctor feel this is appropriate and after you have had the proper training in injection techniques. If you prefer, it may be possible for someone else, such as a family member or a friend, to be trained to give the injections.
Adalimumab for adult use comes ready to use in either a pre-filled syringe or a pre-filled injection ‘pen’. The syringes or pens come in a pack, which also contains an alcohol pad for cleaning the skin before injecting.
The injection is usually given under the skin of your thigh or stomach. It should not be given in any area where the skin is reddened, bruised or hard, and the new injection site should be at least 3cm away from any previous injection sites. If you use a syringe the injection will take about 2-5 seconds. If you use a pen it will take about 10 seconds. Adalimumab for children may come in a vial (small bottle) designed to fit onto a syringe using an adapter.
Tips on injecting adalimumab
One of the most common side effects of adalimumab injections is pain at the injection site, sometimes with redness, itching and swelling. Using the drug when it is at room temperature may help reduce this, so if you keep your adalimumab in a fridge try taking it out about 15 minutes before you need it. You could also apply an ice pack for two or three minutes to the area you are going to inject, before cleansing the skin with the alcohol wipe. Some people find it makes it less painful if they insert the needle quickly in a single motion and then inject the medicine slowly. If your skin hurts or is swollen at the injection site after you have the injection, it may help to apply an ice pack or cold damp towel to the area for about 10-15 minutes. If you do use an ice pack, place a light towel between it and your skin.
How long will I be taking it?
If you respond well to adalimumab and there are no serious adverse effects, you may be put onto a planned course of treatment lasting up to a year or longer. However, your treatment plan will need to be reassessed at least every 12 months to check whether ongoing treatment with adalimumab is still right for you. If it is decided that you should stop taking adalimumab and you then have a relapse, you should have the option to restart your treatment.
You may also be taken off adalimumab if you have serious side effects or if you have not responded strongly enough within 12 weeks of starting your treatment.
How effective is adalimumab?
Adalimumab has been widely used to treat a range of conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis as well as Crohn’s Disease.
Research has found that treatment with adalimumab can be very effective in bringing about and maintaining remission in people with Crohn’s Disease. It can help to reduce the need for hospitalisation and surgery, and has also been used successfully to treat Crohn’s Disease fistulas. In some cases, it may be effective when treatment with another similar drug, infliximab, has failed. Adalimumab has also been used to help bring on an maintain remission in people with Ulcerative Colitis who were not responding to conventional therapy.
There is some evidence that combination therapy, using adalimumab with another drug, for example an immunosuppressant such as azathioprine or methotrexate, may also be helpful for some people with IBD. However, studies have suggested that combination therapies may also increase the risk of side effects, including infections and some types of cancer (see below).
It is important to talk to your IBD specialist doctor before you start your treatment with adalimumab about all the possible benefits and risks, including the potential for side effects, as some of these can be serious.
What checks will I need?
Pre-treatment screening is essential to check your suitability for treatment with adalimumab. Make sure the doctors treating you know:
- if you have any history of tuberculosis (TB) or any recent exposure to people with TB. You should not be given adalimumab if you have active TB, and if you have underlying, inactive TB, this will need to be treated before starting adalimumab. Most doctors now use a blood test to check for underlying or inactive TB, but you may be given a chest x-ray as well.
- if you have or have ever had HIV, hepatitis B or C (a viral liver infection), are a carrier of hepatitis B or C, or have been in close contact with someone who has hepatitis B or C. You will usually have a blood test to check for these diseases before starting adalimumab.
- if you have a history of infections, currently have an infection or have symptoms such as feeling feverish or generally unwell. If you do have an infection your adalimumab treatment may need to be postponed.
- if you have heart problems, as adalimumab may make your symptoms worse, and your heart will need to be monitored closely before and after treatment.
- if you have a history of cancer. Adalimumab affects the way in which your immune system works and you may have an increased risk of developing some types of cancer.
- if you smoke or have COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
- if you have ever had a disease that affects the nervous system, including any symptoms of numbness, tingling or vision problems.
- if you have had kidney or liver disease.
- if you are pregnant, planning to get pregnant or are breastfeeding.
- about any other medications you are taking and any recent vaccinations.
Once your treatment has started you will need regular checks and may need additional blood tests. Monitoring your treatment in this way helps your doctors fit your treatment to your needs. It can also make sure that any complications or problems with your treatment are prevented or caught at an early stage.
Will I need to take any special precautions while being treated with adalimumab?
- Try to avoid close contact with people who have infections. Adalimumab affects the way your immune system works, so you may be more prone to infections. Also, even a mild infection such as a cold or sore throat could develop into a more serious illness if you are taking adalimumab. Contact your doctor or the hospital if you begin to feel unwell and think you may have caught an infection.
- You may also be at greater risk of becoming more seriously ill from viruses such as those that cause chickenpox and shingles, measles, and pneumococcal disease. Tell your doctor if you come into contact with anyone with these conditions even if you do not feel unwell.
- Take care with food hygiene and avoid eating raw eggs or undercooked meat and poultry. You may be more open to the type of infections caused by bacteria such as listeria when being treated with adalimumab.
- You will be advised to have an annual flu vaccine and a 10 yearly pneumonia vaccination while on adalimumab treatment.
What are the most likely side effects of adalimumab?
Like all drugs, adalimumab can have side effects, although not everybody will get them. Some side effects can happen almost immediately, others may develop later. It can take up to six months after the last dose for adalimumab to completely leave the body, so some effects might appear even after stopping treatment.
Some adalimumab side effects are likely to be quite mild and may go away on their own. Others can be more serious and will require treatment, or may mean that adalimumab is not suitable for you.
Some of the main side effects and symptoms are described below.
- Reactions to the injection such as pain or swelling, redness, bruising and itching. This can be very common, affecting more than one in 10 people. Using the adalimumab when it is at room temperature or cooling your skin with an ice pack may help. (See Tips on injecting adalimumab). Your doctor or IBD nurse should also be able to advise you on how to reduce this sort of reaction.
- Symptoms that mean you are having an allergic reaction to adalimumab. For example, rashes, hives, a swollen face, hands and feet, or trouble breathing.
Other side effects:
- A greater openness to infections such as colds and flu and also some more serious infections such as pneumonia and sepsis (general inflammation and problems with blood clotting). You may also be at greater risk of developing tuberculosis (TB), or of having underlying TB reactivated while on adalimumab. Symptoms of an infection often include feeling very tired, fever, cough, and warm painful skin. You may need to stop the adalimumab if you have an infection, but don’t miss an injection without checking with your medical team first.
- Skin reactions such as psoriasis (scaly patches) and eczema, other skin rashes and ulcers. Some of these can be treated without stopping your adalimumab.
- Some types of skin cancer. There have also been reports of other cancers including lymphoma (cancer of the lymph glands) as an uncommon side effect of adalimumab, and more rarely still, leukaemia. You may be more at risk if you are also taking immunosuppressive drugs such as azathioprine or methotrexate. However, it is difficult to know what the exact risk is, as cancers in these cases happen rarely and very few people are affected. Adalimumab therapy is usually not recommended for people who have already had cancer.
- Other very rare complications that have been linked to taking adalimumab include demyelination (damage to nerves) and some rare inflammatory conditions, such as lupus. Many of these serious side effects are reversible if the drug is stopped.
Does adalimumab affect pregnancy?
The evidence about the safety of adalimumab in pregnancy is still fairly limited. It has been found that although adalimumab is unlikely to cross the placenta during the first and second trimesters (months 1-6), it may do so during the last three months of a pregnancy. There have been a number of reports of successful pregnancies in women with IBD who have taken adalimumab before conception or during pregnancy. But research is still ongoing, especially into the possibility of long-term effects of adalimumab on the baby.
Because there is not yet that much clear evidence, the manufacturers recommend that if you are a woman of childbearing age and are prescribed adalimumab, you should use adequate contraception to prevent pregnancy and continue to use it for at least 5 months after stopping treatment. However, some doctors consider that if the adalimumab treatment is keeping your IBD in check, it may be better to continue with it, at least until the end of the second trimester (month 6). Guidelines from the BSG (British Society of Gastroenterology) recommend that doctors should discuss the risks and benefits of taking adalimumab while pregnant with each woman on an individual basis. You may find it helpful to talk through your own options with your specialist IBD team.
This information is designed to answer common questions you may have if you have been given azathioprine or mercaptopurine to treat your Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, the two main forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It is not intended to replace specific advice from your own doctor or any other health professional. You can obtain further information from your doctor, pharmacist, the information leaflet supplied with your medication or from the website: http://www.medicines.org.uk
© Crohn’s and Colitis UK 2015