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Six Things Employees Need to Ask about Humira

by Al Lewis

Here’s a wild guess: Humira is your #1 drug in total spending.

It’s also the biggest advertiser on TV. Coincidence? We think not.

Humira helps many people. We don’t need to discuss the benefits here. There are plenty of TV ads extolling the benefits, not to mention drug detailers calling on doctors to do the same. But as with any serious drugs to treat serious conditions, there could be serious side effects. Potential benefits should be weighed against potential risks. These questions are designed to do that.

Lest you (or whoever you forward this to) forget these questions or forget to bring them with you to the doctor, you can find them again right in your Apple Wallet – assuming you download the questions from that link. These questions are written in the second person, as though you are asking them.

1. What percent of users are helped noticeably?

There is no agreement on this figure, other than it is much less than 100%, and varies by condition for the nine conditions Humira has approval for. While you may be helped, these questions are designed to guide conversations with your doctor about the risks, rather than advertise the benefits.

2. What are the side effects?

Nine serious side effects are listed, along with a slight possibility of very serious side effects, like major infections and cancer, at There are also a number of what are known as contraindications – existing conditions, history, or risks that you have, or drugs you are on, that preclude your taking Humira.

3. What are the risks and symptoms of liver damage?

This particular risk stood out for us from the list of side effects. From the label:

"There is a risk of liver damage. Symptoms of liver damage include feeling very tired, skin or eyes that look yellow, poor appetite or vomiting, and pain on the right side of your stomach (abdomen). These problems can lead to liver failure and death."

Liver damage is only one possible side effect. Any infection or other unusual symptom should be reported to your doctor.

4. What is the cost?

Humira is among the most expensive commonly prescribed drugs. What you yourself pay will depend on your insurance coverage, your deductible and your ability to find coupons. Be careful of online coupon offers, though. They are not all legitimate.

5. What alternative are there?

All drugs that work the same way as Humira, such as Enbrel, carry the risk of significant side effects, though some people will respond better to drugs other than Humira. It also depends on which disease you have, since Humira is approved for nine. For instance, for inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis, you could ask your doctor about Entyvio. We can’t tell you which is better for you, just that it is an alternative that some studies have shown to be better and safer.

6. How long will it take to experience results?

Expect to wait at least 2 weeks. If you don't feel results in 3 months, it is likely time to talk to your doctor about getting off it.

7. Can I stop taking Humira after it works for a while?

If Humira is working, some research shows that after 3 to 12 months of reduced disease activity, doses can be reduced significantly with little increase in symptoms. This will vary by person and should be discussed with your doctor. Since many side effects of many drugs are highly dose-dependent, reducing the dose if you can tolerate more symptoms might be a good idea. Also, your cost will decline quite noticeably.

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