Tocilizumab is a generic medication commonly marketed under the brand name Actemra®. It is intended for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis that is moderate to severe in adult patients. This medication may sometimes be prescribed along with other treatments for arthritis; however, a doctor will not typically prescribe it until other drugs have failed to provide sufficient relief. Tocilizumab works by interfering with a protein, called interleukin-6 (IL-6) that is responsible for triggering arthritic inflammation. As of 2011, this drug is relatively new, so patients should talk with their doctors about the potential for unknown complications and other risks.
Patients will go to a hospital for their dosage of tocilizumab, usually every four weeks. It may only be given as an injection by a health care professional. The nurse will inject a needle into a vein to allow for intravenous transfer of the medication. Dosages must be given slowly over the course of an hour to help reduce the risk of an adverse reaction.
Before undergoing arthritis therapy with tocilizumab, patients must undergo a series of tests to ensure they do not have active infections. This includes testing for tuberculosis (TB). The development of infections in conjunction with this drug may be life-threatening. In addition, patients should be aware that this medicine may increase the risk of some kinds of cancer. Live vaccinations, such as those for polio, chickenpox, or the nasal flu virus must be avoided.
A few mild side effects may occur with the use of tocilizumab. Should these become bothersome, patients should discuss them with their doctors. They may include headache, sore throat, or dizziness. Sinus pain may be accompanied by a runny or stuffy nose. Itching and mild stomach cramps can also occur.
Patients should get emergency medical help if they experience more serious side effects, which may include constipation with severe stomach pain, upper stomach pain, or loss of appetite. Vomit with the appearance of coffee grounds, bloody or tarry stools, and dark urine have also been reported. Some people have noticed jaundice or a painful skin rash that appears to be blistering. Signs of an allergic reaction can include hives, swelling of the face or throat, or problems breathing.
People taking tocilizumab should also be aware of the possible signs of an infection, which requires urgent medical care. These can include flu-like symptoms, such as a fever or chills, as well as painful or burning urination and a cough that produces green or yellow mucus. A patient may notice tiny purple or red spots underneath his skin, as well as mouth or throat sores, and extreme fatigue. Body aches, shortness of breath, and diarrhea may also be signs of an infection.
Before using tocilizumab, patients must disclose all other medical conditions, medications, and supplements. Women who are breastfeeding should not use this drug, while those who are pregnant should discuss the risks with their doctors. It may be contraindicated for use by those who have a history of cancer, diabetes, or high cholesterol, as well as certain other medical conditions. Tocilizumab may interact with birth control pills, other arthritis drugs, and blood thinners.