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My Love-Hate Relationship with Immunosuppressant Medicines

Posted Oct 23 2010 8:06pm

Towards the end of a whirlwind of recent travels, a never ending headache set in. Many factors historically caused me headaches including migraines, stress, and reaction to medications (see earlier post re. Humira). When I was driving home from work yesterday, I began to connect together a set of other symptoms…constantly clogged left side of nose, pressure around my left eye, pain on the molars on the left side, and a recent spate of colds that made the rounds with my children. A sinus infection seemed to be the culprit. By Friday afternoon, the medical options are pretty slim but I swung into the local urgent care. Surprisingly they were not busy and within a few moments I was diagnosed with a sinus infection. I was prescribed the fast acting antibiotic Azithromycin and I coupled that with a decongestant and a neti pot to cleanse the sinuses. Upon waking this morning, the headache and pressure was gone and it remained that way all day!

As an autoimmune disease , RA is treated by medicines that suppress the immune system . If the immune system can be suppressed, then it will be less likely to attack itself and the symptoms of RA can be controlled. Drugs used to treat RA like methotrexate and the biologicals are immunosuppressant drugs. I’ve been on an immunosuppressant for the past 1 ½ years…Enbrel, Cimzia, and now Humira. According to Humira’s website,

HUMIRA is a TNF -blocker medicine that can lower the ability of your immune system to fight infections.” [i]

Before starting on a biological, a negative tuberculosis test is required. Upper respiratory infections, including sinus infections, are first on the list for common side effects for Humira. [ii] This isn’t my first infection while being on a biological medicine. I had a urinary tract infection about 8 months ago and had a couple months of swollen lymph glands around my neck which was attributed to some unknown infection (likely viral). Lower on the list of side effects are cancers like lymphomas. Although it’s easy to get freaked out by such statements and decide not to take a biological treatment for RA, the chances for this occurring are very low and the benefits outweigh the risks for most people.

On one hand, I’m thankful for Humira and its impact on treating my RA. I’ve had pretty decent energy and bone erosion in the fingers seems to be halted (see earlier post ). (Although I’m starting to debate Humira’s effectiveness because of ongoing problems with my ankles. It’s just impossible to tell what things would be like without Humira). On the other hand, I don’t like the fights with infections that are likely caused by having an suppressed immune system. There always seems to be a set of tradeoffs when it comes to the imperfect science of medical treatments.

 


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