Some patients feel mild side effects during or up to 24 hours after receiving rituximab. These usually occur with the first infusion, and can include mild throat tightening, flu-like symptoms, rash, itchiness, dizziness, back pain, nausea, upset stomach, sweating, nervousness, muscle stiffness, and numbness. These symptoms can be reduced by receiving a steroid injection before the infusion, along with acetaminophen (Tylenol) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl). The infusion is sometimes stopped for a short while and then restarted at a slower rate if the symptoms get better. Rarely, patients will have more serious symptoms, such as wheezing, mouth or throat swelling, trouble breathing, or chest pain. Patients who experience these symptoms should tell their health care providers immediately; patients may receive stronger medications to treat those symptoms.
Biologics are genetically engineered medications made from living organisms such as genes or proteins. They interfere with the body’s inflammatory response by inhibiting specific components of the immune system that play a role in increasing or decreasing inflammation. These drugs are given to lessen inflammation by interfering with biologic substances that cause or worsen inflammation. Traditional drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis tend to suppress the entire immune system whereas biological drug therapy targets the particular components of the immune system.