How Humira Works

In some people with arthritis, a signalling protein (cytokine) called Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF) is present in the blood and joints in excessive amounts where it increases inflammation (pain and swelling).

Humira is another type of protein called a monoclonal antibody that works as a TNF blocker. It binds to TNF and prevents it from working. Normally TNF would bind to TNF receptors and cause inflammation.

In blocking TNF, Humira suppresses the body’s immune system. Though this suppression can make it slightly harder for patients to fight off infections, it also helps to stabilize an overactive immune system and control arthritis.

Side Effects of Humira

People taking Humira should talk to their doctor if they are concerned about any side effects.

MORE COMMON side-effects include:

  • Mild skin reaction at the injection site (itchiness, redness, and mild swelling).
  • Nausea, abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Upper respiratory tract infections (such as sinusitis).

RARE side-effects include:

  • Infection – There is an increased risk of serious infections while taking Humira. Any infections or fevers should be taken seriously and reviewed by a doctor.
  • Nervous System – There have been rare reports of some patients developing disorders that affect the nervous system while taking Humira, such as: multiple sclerosis, seizures, or inflammation of the nerves of the eye. Fortunately, these reports are exceedingly rare.
  • Heart – Patients should make sure their doctor knows if they have congestive heart failure as Humira can make it worse.
  • Blood Counts – Humira can cause a drop in the numbers of white blood cells (which are needed to fight infection) or red blood cells (which carry oxygen). This is very rare and it is unusual for this to be a serious problem.
  • Malignancy – Humira has been associated with a small increased risk of developing cancer (<1%).

How to minimize the side-effects of Humira:

  • Patients should take Humira as prescribed by their doctor.

Who Should NOT Take Humira

Patients who should NOT be taking Humira (adalimumab) include:

  • Patients who have had a previous serious allergic reaction to this medication
  • Possibly patients who have cancer or have had a past history of certain cancers
  • Patients who have severe or uncontrolled congestive heart failure
  • Patients who have Lupus or multiple sclerosis
  • Patients with active infections (such as tuberculosis)
  • Patients already taking a medication that is also a “TNF blocker”

Patients should discuss all vaccinations with their doctor as some vaccines are not advisable while taking Humira.

Patients who are planning for surgery should tell their doctor.

Patients who become pregnant while taking Humira should notify their doctor.

When to Call a Doctor

Patients taking Humira (adalimumab) should call their doctor if they feel sick and want to stop, or if they are concerned about any side effects.

Other reasons for people taking Humira to call their doctor include:

  • Fever or possible infection
  • If another doctor has prescribed antibiotics to fight an infection
  • Before having surgery
  • Pregnancy
  • Planning to get any vaccinations
  • Rash

Humira Video

Watch Dr. Andy Thompson, a Canadian rheumatologist, introduce Humira.