Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Doctors may prescribe Humira, an injectable medication, to help relieve symptoms of this condition. And while it may benefit some people, it can increase the risk of infection and cause side effects.
Crohn’s disease causes inflammation in the digestive tract and can affect any part of the tract, which runs from the mouth to the anus.
One treatment for Crohn’s disease is the biologic medication adalimumab. Manufacturers sell it under the brand name Humira. Before prescribing this drug, doctors will outline the benefits for symptoms and its potential health risks and side effects.
This article looks at Crohn’s, its general treatments, what Humira is, and how people use it to treat Crohn’s. We also look at whether it is safe and effective, possible side effects, tips for taking the medication, alternative treatments, and the outlook for people with Crohn’s.
Crohn’s disease usually affects the small intestine and the start of the large intestine. It is a chronic IBD, which means there is no cure.
Symptoms of Crohn’s include:
Different treatments are available that can help ease the symptoms of the disease and can help avoid possible complications. A person should discuss all options with a doctor to help them decide on the best treatment.
Management and treatment options for Crohn’s include:
A person avoids eating any food by mouth during bowel rest. They can only drink certain liquids or receive nutrients through an intravenous (IV) tube or catheter inserted into the vein.
An individual may be on bowel rest at home or complete it at the hospital. Bowel rest gives the intestines time to rest and heal and can last between days and weeks.
Medications for Crohn’s focus on reducing inflammation and slowing a person’s immune system activity.
They may also include medication to treat certain symptoms, such as anti-diarrheal medicines and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Avoiding certain foods may help reduce symptoms of Crohn’s. It may be beneficial for a person to:
- drink more liquids
- avoid carbonated drinks
- avoid high fiber foods
- eat smaller meals more often
Humira is an injectable medication that is part of a group of medications called biologics. Doctors prescribe it alone or in combination with other medications to help relieve symptoms. Other examples of biologics include infliximab (Remicade) and certolizumab pegol (Cimzia).
Health experts do not know the exact causes of Crohn’s disease. Many believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors makes the immune system response overactive.
The system produces certain protein molecules called tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which ordinarily help the body fight off infection. In people with Crohn’s, there is an excess of TNF, which circulates even when the body is not fighting infection. The overactive response of TNF causes inflammation of the gut and the resulting symptoms of Crohn’s.
Drugs, such as Humira,
Participants in a
Studies comparing Humira to other active medications are needed, to help decide the best maintenance therapy for Crohn’s.
Research from 2017 also found that Humira successfully treated about two-thirds of patients with Crohn’s and that more than half remained free of surgery 4 years after they began treatment.
A 2019 study reported that Humira improved patients’ outcomes and remission rates for 6 years.
Other autoimmune conditions that Humira could treat include:
There are risks for people who take Humira, including an increased chance of developing serious infections, including fungal, bacterial, and viral infections that may spread through the body.
Humira also weakens a person’s immune system, making it harder to fight off infections.
For the medication to be effective, doctors will adjust a person’s dose over time, and they may have to continue taking it even while in remission. Doctors will monitor an individual’s condition and any side effects.
There are potentially serious risks and potential side effects of Humira. These include:
Some serious side effects may occur with Humira that require immediate medical attention, including:
- tingling or numbness
- chest pain
- pale skin
- difficulty swallowing
- difficulty breathing
- weakness in legs
- vision problems
- shortness of breath
- joint pain
- fever, chills, or other signs of infection
- swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, or face
Humira can also increase the chances of developing skin cancer, lymphoma, and other types of cancer.
Some of these side effects may go away within a couple of days or weeks. However, if they become more severe or do not resolve, a person can talk with a doctor or pharmacist.
A person can inject themselves with Humira after a doctor has shown them how. An individual will usually inject Humira into the front of their thigh or abdomen, and using different injection areas helps reduce the pain and lower the risk of infection.
To inject Humira, a person should:
- wash their hands thoroughly
- sit in a comfortable position with easy access to the injection site
- clean the injection site
- check the injection to ensure the correct dose
- administer the injection according to a doctor’s instructions
- dispose of the used injection safely, according to disposal requirements
Due to the potential risks of Humira, doctors may recommend them only when other treatments have failed. Alternative treatments may include:
These medications, such as prednisone, can reduce inflammation in the digestive system. A person may need to take them for a couple of months, either orally or as an injection.
Steroids have several side effects, including:
- increasing the risk of infection
- causing weight gain
- problems with sleeping
These medications reduce activity in the immune system. Examples of these drugs include methotrexate and azathioprine. Doctors often prescribe them alongside steroids.
A person may need to take these orally or as an injection for several months or years.
They may also cause side effects such as:
- nausea and vomiting
- liver problems
- increased risk of infection
Doctors may recommend surgery for Crohn’s, especially if another treatment has not been successful. The most common surgery for the condition is resection, which involves the removal of a part of the bowel.
A surgeon may remove part of the digestive tract to treat intestinal or bowel obstructions, bleeding, or fistulous tracts.
A person should speak with their doctor to discuss all treatment options for Crohn’s to explore their benefits and risks.
Crohn’s is a chronic disease that causes symptoms ranging from moderate to severe. Factors, such as diet and environmental triggers, may play a role in the severity of the condition and flare-ups.
Biologic treatments, such as Humira, may improve a person’s outlook by helping them manage and treat symptoms during a relapse or flare-up and maintain remission for longer periods.
A doctor can help a person decide if they are a suitable candidate for Humira due to its risks or if they require other treatment for Crohn’s.
People use Humira to treat the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. The medication works by binding to TNF protein molecules, which the immune system produces to promote healing. If a person has Crohn’s, their body produces too much TNF, which causes inflammation. Humira blocks TNF from circulating, which alleviates the symptoms.
There are risks in taking Humira, especially as it interferes with the body’s ability to fight infections. However, it is effective in treating symptoms of Crohn’s and can help a person remain in remission.
There are various potential risks and side effects of the medication, most of which relate to signs of infection. If a person experiences these, they should seek immediate medical assistance, and doctors may recommend alternative treatments.