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What Is Etanercept?

By Christina Whyte
Updated May 17, 2024
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Etanercept is an injection used to treat some autoimmune disorders, which are conditions in which the immune system attacks the body's own healthy tissues, causing damage, inflammation, and pain. It works by blocking tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a), the substance that promotes inflammation. While it is effective for many patients, there are some potential side effects that may occur, and precautions must be taken while using this medication.

A number of different autoimmune disorders can be treated with etanercept. These include rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis, which all involve inflammation, pain, and swelling of the joints. Chronic plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, which is chronic red scaly patches on the skin alone or combined with joint inflammation, can also be treated with this medication. TNF-a blockers only treat the symptoms of autoimmune disorders and are not a cure.

While a health professional should administer the first injection of etanercept, most patients will then be able to self-administer at home. If self-administering, patients should be sure to get clear instructions from a doctor about both dosage and procedures and carefully follow them. Patients should always check the expiration date, make sure the medication is not cloudy before injecting, and dispose of syringes and other equipment properly.

Some minor side effects that may occur with etanercept treatment include irritation at the injection site, which can be reduced by varying the location used, as well as headache and cough. Swelling, fever, weakness or fatigue, breathing problems, flu-like symptoms, easy bruising or bleeding, or unexplained weight loss or weight gain may indicate a more serious side effect, and medical attention should be sought. Any persistent, severe, or unusual symptoms should be reported to the patient's doctor.

Since etanercept suppresses the immune system, it can make a patient more vulnerable to serious infections. Patients being treated with TNF-a blockers must be carefully monitored for signs of infection, and even minor infections, such as wound infections and cold sores, should be reported. This medication should be cautiously used or avoided by patients who have an already suppressed immune system due to conditions such as diabetes or other immune suppressant medications.

Before starting etanercept treatment, patients will usually be tested for infections, such as tuberculosis, and should be sure to let the prescribing doctor know about all previous infections. Etanercept may interact with other medications, and the doctor needs to know about all medications taken, including over the counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, and recent or upcoming vaccines. TNF blockers have been linked with white blood cell cancers and lymphoma, although it is unclear if this is due to the underlying condition or the medication. Any history of these cancers or symptoms related to them should be reported to the prescribing doctor.

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