How Safe Are Biologics for Crohn's Disease?

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As with all medical treatments, there are risks and benefits to using biological therapy to treat your Crohn’s disease. Before starting treatment, it’s important to discuss those risks and benefits with your doctor to make sure it’s the right option for you. Here are some of the pluses and minuses to using biologics.


The Benefits

Targeted treatment. Biologics specifically act on proteins involved in Crohn’s disease in order to block the body’s inflammation response. This means that biologics can help you escape some of the major side effects, such as osteoporosis, that can occur with medications such as steroids that affect the whole body. 

Improved treatment. When used together, biologics may make immunosuppressive medications more effective.  As a result, inflammation and the symptoms it causes, such as pain and diarrhea, may be better controlled.

Help when other treatments have failed. Biological therapies are approved for use when other therapies, such as anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, and immunosuppressive medications, haven’t helped. Biologics give you another line of defense—and hope—against Crohn’s disease.

The Risks

Skin irritation. Since biologics are given by IV infusion or injection, you may experience a skin reaction. You may develop redness, itching, bruising, pain or swelling at the injection site. Have your doctor examine any problems at your injection site.

Side effects. These can include headache, fever, chills, low blood pressure, stomach pain, nausea, and back pain. Discuss any of these signs with your doctor.

Infections. Biologics may reduce your body’s ability to fight infections, increasing your risk of serious problems such as tuberculosis and sepsis, a blood infection. Make sure you have a tuberculosis test before starting treatment. If you experience signs of infection such as fever, fatigue, cough or flu while taking these medications, tell your doctor immediately.

Blood disorders. Although such complications are rare, certain biologics may increase your risk of blood disorders. Tell your doctor if you develop symptoms such as fever, bruising, bleeding, or pale skin.

Nervous system disorders. Contact your doctor if you experience numbness, weakness, tingling, or visual changes while taking biologics. If you have or previously had a disease that affects the nervous system, let your doctor know before beginning treatment.

Cancer. People taking biologics have a slightly higher risk of developing lymphoma, cancer of the lymphatic system.

Key Takeaways:

  • Biologics can help you escape some of the major side effects, such as osteoporosis, that can occur with medications such as steroids. 

  • When used together, biologics may make immunosuppressive medications more effective. 

  • However, biologics may reduce your body’s ability to fight infections, increasing your risk of serious problems such as tuberculosis.

  • People taking biologics have a slightly higher risk of developing blood disorders, nervous system disorders, and cancer.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Jun 18

  1. Crohn’s Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/Pubs/crohns/index.aspx#treatment

  2. Biologic Therapies. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. http://www.ccfa.org/resources/biologic-therapies.html

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