Can Biologics Help Treat My Autoimmune Disease?
Biologics or biologic response modifiers are a newer class of medications that have significantly contributed to the treatment of autoimmune diseases.
If you are living with an autoimmune disease, you may wonder what biologic infusions are, how they work, and whether they can help treat your condition.
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What are Biologics?
Biologics are powerful drugs genetically engineered from living organisms. Unlike traditional medications, biologics contain large molecules that target specific parts of the immune system, including proteins that promote inflammation, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and pro-inflammatory B and T cells.
Biologics offer a more targeted approach to help slow or stop inflammatory responses that can damage joints and other organs in various autoimmune diseases.
How Biologic Medications Work
Autoimmune disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Lupus, and psoriatic arthritis, result from a misguided immune system response.
Our immune systems are always on guard to fight off invaders such as viruses and harmful bacteria. B cells continuously patrol our body, looking for these foreign invaders. When they detect one, they produce proteins known as antibodies. Then, our T cells recognize the antibodies and attack the harmful molecules.
However, T cells also produce cytokines, proteins that induce inflammation to help fight off germs. Typically, our bodies can control the inflammatory process. However, if you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system gets confused and inflammation can occur in your tissues and organs, causing various symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and skin breakouts.
Biologic therapy targets specific components of your immune system to reduce or stop irregular response activity. Biologic infusions offer a more personalized treatment approach because they target the exact cause of your inflammation. As such, patients experience dramatic improvements with fewer adverse side effects.
Even though biologics provide significant benefits, it’s important to remember that inflammatory diseases are complex and driven by many factors. Therefore, it’s not unusual to see some patients improve while others continue to struggle with their disease management. If you don’t respond favorably to the first biologic prescribed by your doctor or it stops working for you, your physician may suggest trying a different biologic.
What Conditions Can Biologics Treat
The most advanced biologic drugs available have revolutionized the treatment of numerous autoimmune diseases and other conditions, including:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (MS)
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Systemic Lupus Erythematous
- Allergic Asthma
- Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria
What Are the Risks of Biologic Therapy?
As with any other medications, biologic medications can cause adverse side effects.
Mild side effects include feeling tired for a few days after your infusion session, reactions at the injection site, headache, and stomach pain.
It should be noted that biologic therapy does suppress parts of your immune system which may make you more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. Additionally, some reports of autoimmune phenomena, including the presence of antibodies, mainly antinuclear antibodies (ANA), to full-blown autoimmune diseases, have occurred.
Your doctor and healthcare team will weigh the benefits and potential risks of biologic treatment before you decide if biologic therapy is right for you.
Work with Your Healthcare Provider to Determine if Biologic Therapy is Right for You
Biologic therapy is not the best course of treatment for all patients. Typically, doctors recommend biologics for patients who do not respond well to traditional medications.
However, there is evidence that the early introduction of biologics for some chronic diseases helps curb disease progression.
Your doctor is the only one who can prescribe biologic therapy. When doing so, they will evaluate the safety of the medication and discuss the potential benefits and risks of taking the drug.
All patients react differently to a treatment. Keep this in mind, and don’t be discouraged if the first biologic prescribed doesn’t work as you expect.
Here are some excellent questions you can ask your doctor before deciding to start biologic therapy:
- Why do you feel this biologic is right for me?
- Is this biologic drug safe?
- How soon can I expect to see improvements?
- How can I tell if this biologic is working for me?
- What are the potential side effects?
- How many of your patients experience side effects?
- What can I do if I experience persistent adverse side effects?
- If this biologic is not suitable for me, what can we do?
- Is there anything I can do to improve the efficacy of biologic infusion therapy?
Prepare the list of questions you wish to ask your doctor and you can cover all your topics of concern.
Discussing healthcare issues can be overwhelming, so consider taking a family member or friend to your appointment to help you stay calm and remember your doctor’s responses.
If you forget something or realize you are unclear on a particular topic, don’t hesitate to call your healthcare team, they are there to help you.