Fact Checked

What Is Humira Used For?

Humira is one of the world’s best selling and most popular brand name drugs, with global sales for the medication reaching nearly 20 billion dollars in 2018. Of that 20 billion dollars, more than 13 billion dollars’ worth of the medication was purchased in the United States alone. What is it that makes Humira such a popular drug? For one, Humira is something of a wonder drug, as it is approved for the treatment of many different moderate to severe autoimmune and immune-influenced conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. The drug works by treating the cause of chronic inflammation that plagues people with many autoimmune disorders, which means it has many different applications. The drug has been in use for nearly 20 years and has been extensively studied, so it is a popular choice for doctors and patients alike because it is well-tolerated by most patients and considered safe for many people to use. So, what is Humira used for?

What Is Humira?

Humira is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medication that is used to treat pain and inflammation associated with a number of different conditions. The medication was first approved by the FDA on December 31, 2002 and belongs to a class of drugs called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers. TNF is part of the body’s natural immune response and it contributes to inflammation levels in the body in response to injury or infection. However, some people produce too much TNF and suffer from chronic inflammation. Humira is given as an injection and helps to reduce inflammation in the body, particularly inflammation that is associated with autoimmune conditions. 

What Is Humira Used For?

Humira is used for the treatment of many different inflammatory conditions, including those associated with autoimmune disease, in both adults and children. People with autoimmune diseases often suffer from inflammation as a result of the activity of a protein called TNF, which can cause joint swelling, damage, and other forms of inflammation that can be painful and inconvenient. Humira is FDA-approved to treat the following conditions:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Plaque psoriasis
  • Severe Crohn’s disease
  • Pediatric Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Hidradenitis suppurativa
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • Non-infectious uveitis

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that occurs when your immune system attacks healthy joints by mistake, causing joint damage that can be irreversible. People with rheumatoid arthritis may experience symptoms such as pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of physical function in their joints. Humira treats moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis by targeting and blocking the source of the inflammation that causes joint pain and damage.

Plaque Psoriasis

Plaque psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that is believed to develop as a result of a combination of genetic, environmental, and immune factors. People with severe chronic plaque psoriasis have immune systems that send out errant signals that increase the growth rate of skin cells, causing excess skin cells to accumulate. Symptoms of plaque psoriasis include reddish areas of inflamed skin, cracked, dry skin, sore, itchy, or burning skin, and scaly, silver patches of inflamed skin. People with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis often have too much TNF-alpha protein, so Humira can help by blocking the action of this protein in the body, helping to clear the skin.

Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the digestive tract; most frequently, it impacts the small and large intestines. Crohn’s is a chronic disease that is characterized by flare-ups and periods of remission. People with Crohn’s disease often experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and unintended weight loss. Many of the symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease are caused by inflammation, so Humira can help by targeting and blocking TNF, a protein that is associated with causing inflammation.
Ulcerative colitis is another IBD that is characterized by inflammation of the large intestine. Irritation, swelling, and the development of painful sores or ulcers on the lining of the large intestine are common symptoms of the condition. Ulcerative colitis is thought to be linked to TNF, so Humira can help reduce the symptoms of ulcerative colitis by targeting and blocking the protein.

Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is believed to be linked to the immune system. People with HS develop small bumps underneath the skin, particularly in areas where skin rubs together, they have hair, or where sweat glands are located. It is believed that HS is influenced by the production of too much TNF-alpha, so Humira is used to target and block the action of TNF.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Although many people suffer from lower back pain, most experience back pain due to an injury or strain. Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the immune system attacks healthy joints in the spine, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Humira is the number one prescribed treatment for ankylosing spondylitis and is helpful in blocking the action of TNF proteins that cause the inflammation associated with the disease.

Uveitis

Humira can also be used to treat non-infectious uveitis, a type of eye inflammation that affects the uvea, or portion of the eye containing the iris, choroid, and ciliary body. Non-infectious uveitis is inflammation that is caused by something other than bacteria or a virus, and it may be acute or chronic. Symptoms can include changes in vision, dark floating spots, eye pain or redness, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light. Humira is the only FDA-approved biologic that is able to treat non-infectious uveitis effectively in patients as young as two, and it works by targeting TNF, which plays a role in the inflammation associated with the condition.

How Does Humira Work?

Humira and other TNF blockers like it work by binding to TNF proteins in blood cells and blocking their action, which helps to reduce inflammation. TNF is part of the body’s normal immune response, and most people produce it at healthy levels. However, some people with autoimmune conditions or other conditions that are linked to the immune system overproduce TNF, which can cause chronic inflammation. Depending on the type of inflammation you experience, the impacts can range from pain to permanent damage. Because so many different conditions are linked to the overproduction of TNF, Humira has a wide variety of applications. Unfortunately, Humira is not a cure for any of the medical conditions that it is used to treat. No cures exist for these conditions at this time. However, Humira can help manage the symptoms of moderate to severe autoimmune disorders and immune-influenced conditions and can even lead to clinical remission.

What Are the Benefits of Humira?

Humira is one of the best-selling drugs in the world for good reason; the drug has many benefits and is effective for the treatment of numerous multiple to severe autoimmune conditions. Benefits of Humira include:

  • The medication is well-tolerated by most patients and side effects are generally mild.
  • Humira has conducted clinical trials for over 20 years, so its effects are well understood.
  • As of 2017, more than 1.1 million patients worldwide were being treated with Humira, so there is a large support network regarding the use of the drug.
  • As an anti-rheumatic drug, Humira can help prevent joint damage in people with rheumatoid arthritis when combined with methotrexate.
  • Humira can be used to treat patients as young as two years of age depending on the condition being treated.

What Risks Are Associated With Humira?

Although there are many benefits associated with Humira, as listed above, taking the medication also poses some risks. Risks associated with Humira include:

  • TNF blockers can lower the infection-fighting ability of your body’s immune system, leaving you more susceptible to infection and illness while taking it. 
  • Some patients taking Humira, including children who have JIA, have suddenly developed a rare form of cancer called hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma. This disease can be fatal.
  • Patients who have not received a complete vaccine schedule should complete any necessary vaccines prior to taking Humira due to the increased risk of infection.
  • Patients who are recovering from an infection or who get infections frequently should be sure to discuss their medical history with their doctor prior to starting Humira.

What Dose of Humira Should I Take?

Humira is given as an injection that is usually administered by the patient at home. The medication is typically injected into the abdomen or thighs using a prefilled single-use syringe or pen. Humira is offered in doses of 10 mg, 20 mg, and 40 mg, and doctors will prescribe the appropriate dose for each patient depending on their age, the condition being treated, and other factors. Humira is typically given every other week after receiving a starting dose, which is administered by a healthcare professional. Patients should only inject Humira on their own if they have received training to do so. The medication should be stored in the refrigerator and should not be frozen. If needed, Humira may be stored at room temperature for up to 14 days with protection from light. 

What Are the Side Effects of Humira?

Side effects associated with Humira are categorized as either common or uncommon. Humira is generally well tolerated by most adults, and injection site reactions are the most common side effect experienced by patients. Common side effects associated with Humira that usually do not need medical attention include:

  • Injection site reactions such as pain, redness, rash, swelling, itching, or bruising
  • Upper respiratory infections/sinus infections like sinusitis
  • Headaches
  • Rash
  • Nausea
  • Bladder pain

Most of the side effects listed above are mild and last for only a few days or weeks as your body adjusts to Humira. If side effects persist or an allergic reaction develops, talk to your doctor.

Some adverse effects of Humira do require medical attention. Check with your health care provider immediately if you experience any of the following uncommon but serious side effects while taking Humira:

  • Serious infections, including tuberculosis and other infections. Symptoms include:
    • Fever and chills
    • Muscle pain
    • Fatigue
    • Dark urine
    • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
    • Stomach problems
  • Allergic reactions, with symptoms including:
    • Chest tightness
    • Wheezing
    • Trouble breathing
    • Hives, itching, or skin rash
    • Swelling of the tongue, lips, or fact
  • Nervous system problems, including weakness, tingling, and numbness
  • Low platelet count
  • Heart conditions that may be a sign of heart failure
  • Immune reactions
  • Liver problems
  • Worsening psoriasis

Can Women Who Are Pregnant or Breastfeeding Take Humira?

AbbVie Inc., the manufacturer for Humira, states that women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to breastfeed should speak to their doctors before using Humira. According to Abbvie, Humira should only be used during pregnancy if the benefits outweigh the risks to the fetus. Women who are considering breastfeeding should speak to their doctor about the pros and cons of using Humira, as Humira should not be used by breastfeeding women. Women should plan to stop taking Humira or choose not to breastfeed, as the medication is transferred to the infant through breast milk.

Who Should Not Take Humira?

Humira should not be taken by people who have an allergic reaction to Humira or any of its ingredients, including adalimumab, Mannitol, sodium citrate, monobasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, sodium chloride, citric acid monohydrate, or polysorbate 80. It also should not be taken by anyone who has a severe infection, has an active diagnosis of tuberculosis, or has other infections that could weaken the immune system. People should not receive “live” vaccines while taking Humira, as the vaccine may not be as effective and may not provide full protection from the disease. People who have experienced any of the following health conditions should make sure to fully discuss their medical history with their doctor prior to taking Humira. 

  • Infections, especially if infections are recurring or localized
  • Fungal infection
  • Latex or rubber allergy
  • Heart conditions
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis
  • Cancer
  • Liver or kidney problems or disease

Humira should not be taken in combination with the following medications:

  • Orencia (abatacept)
  • Kineret (anakinra)
  • Remicade (infliximab)
  • Enbrel (etanercept)
  • Cimzia (certolizumab pegol)
  • Simponi (golimumab)

Adult patients who have ever taken the prescription drugs Rituxan (rituximab), Imuran (azathioprine) or Purinethol (mercaptopurine, 6-MP) should disclose this information to their doctors when considering a Humira injection. 
 

Published July 6th, 2020 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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