Humira (adalimumab) is a medication used to treat autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. It works by blocking a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) that causes inflammation in the body. While Humira can be very effective, it does have some potential side effects that are important to be aware of.
Key Takeaways About Side Effects of Humira
- Humira can cause mild side effects like injection site reactions, headaches, nausea, rash, upper respiratory infections. Most are short-term.
- Serious side effects are less common but can be dangerous, like severe infections, heart failure, nervous system disease, or allergic reactions requiring emergency care.
- Long-term use of Humira may increase risks of certain cancers, autoimmune reactions, heart problems, liver damage, and other issues.
- Doctors monitor patients on Humira closely for side effects and may alter treatment plans if concerning reactions occur. Promptly report any troubling symptoms.
- Humira is not typically recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding due to potential risks to mothers and babies.
- Take Humira only as prescribed and follow up with your healthcare provider regularly to check for any new or worsening side effects requiring evaluation.
What Is Humira and How Does It Work?
Humira is a biologic medication, meaning it contains antibodies produced by living cells. Specifically, it contains adalimumab, which is a fully human monoclonal antibody. Monoclonal antibodies target specific proteins in the body.
Humira works by binding to and blocking TNF. TNF is a protein that regulates immune cells and promotes inflammation as part of the immune response. In autoimmune diseases, too much TNF can lead to chronic inflammation and damage to joints, skin, and organs.
By blocking excess TNF, Humira reduces inflammation involved in autoimmune diseases. This helps relieve symptoms like joint pain, rashes, and diarrhea. It may also help protect joints and organs from further damage.
Common Side Effects of Humira
Like all medications, Humira can cause side effects. Most are mild, but some can be serious. The most common side effects of Humira include:
Injection Site Reactions
Since Humira is given by injection under the skin, reactions at the injection site are very common. Up to 37% of people experience redness, rash, itching, or swelling where they inject Humira.
Using an ice pack on the area before injecting can help reduce pain. Rotating your injection sites also gives each spot more time to recover between doses. Most injection reactions go away within a few days.
Headaches are another common complaint, affecting around 12% of people in studies. These are usually mild and typically get better on their own. Drink plenty of water and take over-the-counter pain medicine if needed.
Let your doctor know if headaches are severe or frequent. They may recommend ways to prevent them or treat them when they occur.
A rash can develop in around 5% of people using Humira. Most rashes are mild and resolve with time. The cause is often unknown.
Rashes could also signal an allergic reaction or infection. Contact your doctor if a rash is severe, widespread, or accompanied by other symptoms like fever. Rarely, Humira may cause or worsen psoriasis.
Serious Side Effects to Watch For
While less common, Humira does have some potentially serious side effects to be aware of. Call your doctor right away if you experience any of the following:
Humira modulates the immune system, so infections are a risk. Seek medical care immediately for symptoms like:
- Fever over 100.4°F (38°C)
- Cough that won’t go away
- Burning pain when you urinate
- Cold sores or discharge from your nose or eyes
Also call your doctor if you’ve been exposed to an infection like chickenpox or COVID-19. You may need to pause Humira treatment temporarily.
Call your doctor if you have any signs of liver damage, including:
- Loss of appetite
- Severe tiredness
- Itching skin
- Yellowing skin or eyes
- Abdominal pain
Humira may cause new liver problems or worsen existing conditions like hepatitis B. Blood tests can check for liver changes.
Seek emergency care immediately if you have any symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, including:
- Swelling of the face, lips, mouth, or throat
- Trouble breathing
- Rash or hives
Humira contains proteins that may rarely trigger anaphylaxis. You’ll be monitored closely after your first few doses for any signs of reaction.
New or worsening heart failure has happened in some people taking Humira. Call your doctor if you have symptoms like:
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the ankles or feet
- Unusual tiredness
Humira may worsen existing heart conditions. Your doctor may monitor your heart health regularly.
Nervous System Problems
Nerve issues like tingling, numbness, vision changes, and dizziness have occurred. They are generally mild but call your doctor if symptoms concern you. Guillain-Barré syndrome has also been reported.
Less Common but Serious Side Effects
Some other infrequent but serious Humira risks include:
Lymphoma and other cancers have developed, most often in children and younger adults. Skin cancers have also occurred. Discuss your risks with your doctor.
Cancer. For children and adults taking TNF blockers, including HUMIRA, the chance of getting lymphoma or other cancers may increase. There have been cases of unusual cancers in children, teenagers, and young adults using TNF blockers. Some people have developed a rare type of cancer called hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma. This type of cancer often results in death. If using TNF blockers including HUMIRA, your chance of getting two types of skin cancer (basal cell and squamous cell) may increase. These types are generally not life-threatening if treated; tell your doctor if you have a bump or open sore that doesn’t heal.
Humira may reduce blood cells that help fight infections and prevent bleeding. Call your doctor if you have unusual bruising, bleeding, fatigue, or infections.
Some people have developed symptoms like joint pain, rash, fever, and chest pain. Call your doctor if you notice these.
Rare cases of demyelinating disorders like MS have been reported with Humira. Call your doctor if you have vision changes, numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness.
Long-Term Side Effects
Humira is generally safe for long-term treatment if your doctor determines the benefits outweigh potential risks in your case. However, extended Humira use does have some risks to consider:
Increased Infection Risk
Your risk of serious infections may be higher with long-term Humira use. Stay vigilant about contacting your doctor if you suspect an infection.
Skin Cancer Risk
Studies show Humira may nearly double the risk of skin cancers compared to not using it. Get yearly skin exams and report any suspicious spots to your dermatologist right away.
Long-term use of Humira might increase your risk for liver toxicity. Your doctor can monitor your liver blood tests periodically.
In rare cases, Humira may trigger the immune system to attack the body, causing conditions like lupus, sarcoidosis, and psoriasis.
Who Should Not Take Humira?
Humira is not appropriate for everyone. You should not take it if you:
- Currently have an active infection
- Have untreated latent TB
- Have moderate to severe heart failure
- Have a history of cancer, especially lymphoma
- Have an allergy or sensitivity to Humira or its components
Talk to your doctor about your full health history to see if Humira might be a good option for your condition.
Side Effects in Children Using Humira
Humira is approved to treat juvenile idiopathic arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and uveitis in children as young as 2 years old.
The safety profile is similar to adults. The most common side effects are headache, nausea, and injection site reactions. Serious infections and blood disorders occur more often in younger children.
Carefully weigh the benefits and risks of Humira with your child’s doctor before starting. Ensure your child is up to date on all vaccinations, including annual flu shots, to lower infection risks.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Side Effects
You and your doctor can take steps to help minimize potential Humira side effects:
- Get recommended health screenings before starting Humira, including TB, hepatitis B, and cancer screening based on your history
- Update vaccines, especially annual influenza, pneumonia, shingles, and HPV vaccines
- Monitor for infections and call your doctor if you have symptoms
- Have yearly skin exams by a dermatologist to check for skin cancers
- Avoid live vaccines like measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and nasal flu while using Humira
- Wash your hands frequently and avoid people who are sick
- Limit alcohol to lower immune system effects and potential liver effects
- Have regular blood tests to check for blood counts and liver enzymes
- Follow dosage instructions carefully and do not increase dose or frequency without your doctor’s approval
When to Call Your Doctor About Side Effects
Contact your healthcare provider right away if you experience any concerning side effects while using Humira, including:
- Persistent fever over 100.4°F (38°C)
- Fatigue, body aches, or chills
- Swollen glands or night sweats
- Cough or trouble breathing
- Changes in vision
- Numbness or tingling in your hands or feet
- Easy bruising or unusual bleeding
- Yellowing of the eyes or skin
- Skin rash, bumps, or sores
Routine appointments allow your doctor to monitor for side effects and ensure Humira is still the best treatment option for your condition. Do not stop or change your Humira dose without medical supervision.
Humira and Pregnancy/Breastfeeding
Humira is considered pregnancy category B by the FDA, meaning no risks were found in animal studies but data in humans is limited. The medication does cross the placenta.
Discuss using Humira before or during pregnancy with your doctor. Infants exposed during the third trimester should not receive live vaccines for 6 months after birth.
It’s unknown if Humira passes into breastmilk. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of continuing Humira if you are breastfeeding.
What to Do if You Miss a Dose of Humira
It’s important to follow your prescribed dosing schedule for Humira as closely as possible. Missing doses allows inflammation to come back.
If you do miss a dose, inject it as soon as you remember. However, if it is close to the time for your next scheduled dose, skip the missed dose and continue with your regular schedule. Do not inject extra Humira to make up a missed dose.
Mark your calendar with reminders, and consider setting phone alarms for your injection days. Ask your doctor ahead of time what to do if you miss a dose while traveling or during an illness.
How to Dispose of Leftover Humira
Humira comes in single-use prefilled syringes or pens. Once opened, any remaining medication must be disposed of. Be sure to:
- Never reuse syringes or pens
- Place all needles in an FDA-approved sharps disposal container right after use
- Follow community guidelines for disposing of full sharps containers
- Keep Humira away from children and pets
Talk to your pharmacist if you have questions about properly disposing of used syringes, pens, or leftover Humira.
Reporting Side Effects from Humira
Notify your healthcare provider if you experience any side effects while using Humira, especially if they are serious or do not go away.
You can also report side effects yourself to the FDA’s MedWatch program by:
- Calling 1-800-FDA-1088
- Visiting www.fda.gov/medwatch
- Faxing 1-800-FDA-0178
Sharing your experience with side effects can help provide more information about a medication’s safety. However, always talk to your doctor first when experiencing side effects.
What You Should Know About Humira’s Side Effects
Humira can cause mild side effects like injection site reactions, headaches, and rashes in many people. More serious side effects are possible but rare, including infections, liver damage, allergic reactions, and nervous system disorders.
Carefully weigh the benefits and potential risks of Humira with your doctor. Stay in close contact with your healthcare provider while using this medication.
Seeking prompt medical care if you experience any concerning side effects is also crucial. Being informed about what to watch for can help ensure you use Humira safely and effectively.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most common side effects of Humira?
The most frequent side effects are injection site reactions, headaches, upper respiratory infections, and rash. Most are mild.
Does Humira weaken your immune system?
Yes, Humira suppresses the immune system to reduce inflammation. This makes infections more likely. Talk to your doctor about infection prevention.
Can you take Humira long-term?
Yes, if the benefits continue to outweigh potential risks, Humira can be used for long-term treatment as prescribed by your doctor. Extended use does increase risks like infections and skin cancer.
Does Humira cause hair loss?
Hair loss is not a listed side effect of Humira. However, many conditions treated by Humira, like lupus, can cause hair loss. Let your doctor know if you notice unusual hair thinning or loss.
Can Humira cause weight gain?
Weight gain is not a known side effect of Humira. However, reducing inflammation and pain may increase mobility and appetite, possibly leading to some weight gain. Discuss any major changes with your healthcare provider.
When should you stop taking Humira?
Do not stop taking Humira without medical supervision. Your doctor will determine if and when it might be appropriate to stop, especially if you experience troublesome side effects or your condition goes into remission.