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How Effective Is Infliximab for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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  • Written By: Lynelle Harmon
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that primarily impacts the joints. Doctors often prescribe the medication infliximab for rheumatoid arthritis because it blocks a cellular substance that causes inflammation. Infliximab may be effective in managing the symptoms of RA, but it isn't a cure and carries some serious side effects.

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis typically begins with a class of medications called disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). This class includes the drugs methotrexate and leflunomide. Patients take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen in conjunction with the DMARD. If DMARD treatment fails to manage the symptoms of RA, the doctor may prescribe a TNF-alpha inhibitor instead.

The exact cause of RA isn't known, but the associated inflammation is caused by a specific cytokine. Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) is a signalling protein molecule produced to regulate the cells of the immune system. Properly functioning TNF-alpha helps the body in various ways, including assisting in the natural death cycle of cells. An abundance of malfunctioning TNF-alpha in one region of the body causes inflammation.

Doctors prescribe infliximab for rheumatoid arthritis because it is a TNF-alpha inhibitor. The medication chemically latches onto the TNF-alpha produced to prevent the substance from attaching to its receptors. This reduces the concentration, which, in turn, reduces the inflammation.

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Dosage of infliximab for rheumatoid arthritis comes through intravenous injection. The dose must be administered in a doctor's office by either a doctor or nurse. Completion of a dose can take up to two hours. Patients return for the next dose in as little as two weeks or as long as two months, depending on need.

Minor side effects of this medication include stomach cramps, heartburn, and headaches. Patients should notify the doctor if side effects become more serious and include chest pain, seizures, or swelling. The doctor should be informed if the patient is currently taking anakinra or etanercept, as the medications may interact with infliximab.

Infliximab for rheumatoid arthritis carries potentially serious long-term effects. There is some evidence that treatment with TNF-alpha inhibitors can cause a fast-growing form of lymphoma in a small subset of patients. The medication can also make the patient more susceptible to infections that may develop into severe illness.

Patients prescribed infliximab for rheumatoid arthritis should remain in constant contact with the doctor. Side effects, large or small, should be reported immediately. The doctor may decide to cease this medicinal treatment in favor of a medication that might better suit the patient.

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