What Is Infliximab?

B. Chisholm

Infliximab is a tumor necrosis factor blocker. It is used in the treatment of a number of diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, plaque psoriasis, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. It is an injectable drug, and the dose and duration of treatment depends on the condition being treated. These conditions are due to an autoimmune process, which infliximab essentially blocks.

A diagram showing diseases of the colon. Infliximab may help some patients with ulcerative colitis.
A diagram showing diseases of the colon. Infliximab may help some patients with ulcerative colitis.

Infliximab is a monoclonal antibody that is thought to act by binding to the tumor necrosis factor alpha, which is a chemical messenger involved in the autoimmune process. Tumor necrosis factor alpha causes inflammation. By stopping the autoimmune reaction, infliximab may reduce the symptoms of these conditions to bring on and maintain remission. It does not, however, cure the disease.

Infliximab may help people who suffer from psoriatic arthritis.
Infliximab may help people who suffer from psoriatic arthritis.

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are illnesses of the digestive tract often referred to as inflammatory bowel diseases. They can both cause severe discomfort and often diarrhea. Infliximab has been effective in some patients with these conditions in reducing the severity of symptoms and inducing and maintaining remission.

Rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis are conditions that affect either the joints, spine or skin, sometimes in combination. Plaque psoriasis is a skin condition that causes red patches of scaly skin, or plaques, most commonly on the knees or elbows, but in some cases all over the body. They all result in significant inflammation and discomfort, linked to tumor necrosis factor alpha. Infliximab, by blocking the tumor necrosis factor alpha, can induce remission and maintain it. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, infliximab is often used in combination with methotrexate when it is not effective on its own.

Administration of infliximab is by infusion, usually two treatments weekly for the first two doses, then a dose after four weeks, and then one treatment every eight weeks to maintain remission. The drug is normally administered in a hospital setting or in a doctor's room, as a hypersensitivity or allergic reaction may occur during or after administration, especially after the first two doses. Drugs to prevent this possible reaction may be given before the infliximab infusion is started.

As with any medication, infliximab may interact with other medications or conditions so these should be discussed with the prescribing doctor. Pregnancy, desired pregnancy or lactation should also be discussed. Adverse effects may occur, including susceptibility to infection, headache and hypersensitivity. These possible side effects should be discussed with the doctor, and should any untoward effect occur during or after treatment, medical attention should be sought immediately.

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