|Part of the nr-axSpA Doctor Visit Checklist series
Biologic Side Effects
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If your doctor has recommended trying a biologic to treat your nonradiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpA), make certain you have all the information you need to make an informed decision. In clinical studies, these human-made proteins have proven effective in slowing disease progress. Like all medications, they come with a risk of side effects.
The most common side effects relate to how these medications are administered — via injection or IV infusion — which can lead to itchiness, soreness, or discoloration at the injection site. Some people experience headaches or nausea. Additionally, biologics may increase your risk for infections, because they work by suppressing your immune system.
More serious side effects may include shortness of breath, dizziness, painful rash or sores, and gastrointestinal issues. Some research suggests taking biologics can, in very rare cases, lead to more serious health conditions, like some types of cancer.
Watch this video for some guidance on what questions to ask your doctor about side effects for a new biologic. Having an open, honest conversation will equip you to weigh the risks of starting the drug against the potential benefits of slowing down the progress of your nr-axSpA and preventing long-term joint damage. Your health care team may also have recommendations for reducing side effects — but they can’t help if they don’t know what you’re experiencing.
From there, check out other videos in this series on topics like how to start a conversation about nr-axSpA treatments, how to talk about biologic therapy, ways to stick with your treatment, and what lifestyle changes you can adopt to manage your condition.
Have more questions? See if they’re among the top three questions rheumatologist Dr. Siddharth Tambar gets about nr-axSpA.
On MySpondylitisTeam — the social network for people with spondylitis and their loved ones — members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with spondylitis.
Have you and your rheumatologist discussed side effects from biologics? Did they provide helpful advice? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.
00:00:04:21 - 00:00:07:07
Will I have any side effects if I take the biologics?
00:00:07:16 - 00:00:20:18
As with all medications, even those you buy over the counter, biologics can have side effects. For instance, biologics are injected and they can cause redness or itching at the site where you inject. That’s pretty common.
00:00:20:22 - 00:00:24:09
OK. What about less common side effects?
00:00:24:13 - 00:00:34:01
So although less common, there’s higher risk for infection with biologics. That might mean you can catch cold or flu more easily.
00:00:34:01 - 00:00:34:04
00:00:34:04 - 00:00:48:01
It could mean you’re more likely to develop serious infections, too. So it’s important to take precautions against getting sick when taking biologics, since there could be potential for infection, although less likely.
00:00:48:07 - 00:00:50:22
Are there any long-term risks I should know about?
00:00:51:09 - 00:01:04:11
There’s some evidence that biologics may slightly increase your risk of developing certain cancers, like lymphoma, if you take them long term. We’re not completely sure about this risk because studies have shown different results.
00:01:04:16 - 00:01:09:00
So I have to decide whether the potential benefits are worth the potential risks.
00:01:09:06 - 00:01:25:05
Yes, you have to weigh the risks against the benefits of less pain and stiffness, and less chance of joint damage and disability in the future. Your risks may differ depending on your own personal health history and which biologic you choose.
00:01:25:17 - 00:01:29:06
OK. What if I have trouble taking the medication?
00:01:29:12 - 00:01:54:00
Let me or my nursing staff know right away, especially if that problem makes it hard for you to keep taking it on schedule or as directed. If you have any side effect that’s bothering you, we’ll help you manage it. We’ll talk about each medication and your individual health history and decide together which one might meet your needs if you decide to go with the biologic treatment.