Growing up, I always hated those commercials promoting the latest and greatest pharmaceutical drugs. I disliked them mainly because they interrupted my favorite episode of Law and Order: SVU or Keeping Up with the Kardashians. But I also felt like these commercials were dishonest. They depicted happy, healthy people going about their daily lives with cheesy smiles, all while an omniscient narrator nonchalantly listed off the possibility of cancer or death. I felt like pharmaceutical companies wanted to convince the public that these drugs could solve any ailment and create a picture perfect lifestyle, all so that they could turn a nice profit. I always told myself that I would never take a medication that had a commercial like that.
Buy hey, shit happens (pun intended).
Inflammation is a hot topic in the health world today. By definition, inflammation is a “localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection.” In normal situations, inflammation is a helpful immune response that protects the body from harmful pathogens and helps with the healing process. But when someone suffers from an autoimmune disease, this immune response becomes dysregulated, causing chronic inflammation in the body. In the case of Crohn’s disease, the body attacks its own tissues in the digestive tract.
When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I was in the midst of a severe flare and was immediately prescribed prednisone. Prednisone is a corticosteroid medication that works by suppressing the immune system and quickly decreasing inflammation in the body. It is a life saving drug, and without it I would be in pretty rough shape right now. But it comes with a host of scary side effects like nausea, insomnia, and bone loss, just to name a few. When I was taking prednisone, I felt like I was losing my mind half the time. Because of these side effects, prednisone is not a viable long term solution for autoimmune symptoms.
Luckily, there are several maintenance therapies to treat inflammation caused by autoimmune disease. The three classes of medication used to treat Crohn’s disease include anti-inflammatories, immunosuppressants, and biologics. My doctor recommended Humira, a powerful biologic medication that works by blocking a specific part of the immune system that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. It’s also the subject of countless TV commercials.
I spent two agonizing weeks deciding whether or not to accept this course of treatment. Humira, like other biologics and immunosuppressants, works by weakening the immune system. While these medications work well to stop an overactive immune response, they also leave you more vulnerable to infections and cancer. I certainly didn’t want to expose myself to these risks, but I knew that untreated Crohn’s inflammation would damage my intestines and increase the likelihood of future flare ups and surgery. I never liked the idea of taking medication, especially a medication that I would have to take indefinitely. I asked for advice from my friends, family, and doctors and collected as much information as I possibly could. But the decision was ultimately my own, and no amount of research would ever provide full peace of mind. After much debate, I finally decided that I would take Humira.
Humira is an injection that you give yourself, usually on a weekly or biweekly basis. I’m not a big fan of needles, and I honestly questioned whether I’d be capable of giving myself a shot. Everyone has a different pain tolerance so it’s hard to compare yourself to others, but in my experience I haven’t had a terrible time with the injection. The first few doses of Humira were nerve wracking. My heart would start racing and my hands would clam up as I anticipated the pain. But afterward, I realized it didn’t hurt nearly as much as I prepared myself for. For anyone reading this who is considering Humira or another injectable medication, don’t let the fear of the injection stop you from choosing the medication if it is the right option for you. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt, but the pain subsides in less than a minute and the medication will likely alleviate some of the pain caused by untreated inflammation.
It can take up to three months for Humira to build up in your system and take full effect. I noticed some improvements in my symptoms by the three month mark, but I was nowhere near remission. My doctor recommended that I add an immunosuppressant to the mix to help achieve full remission. I decided to wait and continue my healing through diet and alternative therapies, and was able to achieve clinical remission six months later.
I’ve been taking Humira for almost a year now, and feel lucky that this medication works well for me. Medications like prednisone and Humira saved my life and I’m incredibly grateful for them, but I view these drugs as a crutch. They are allowing me to be well and live a functional life while I get to where I want to be. While these powerful drugs help to manage symptoms, they are not a cure and don’t address the root cause of disease. I’m currently experimenting with dietary and lifestyle approaches, and am also working with an alternative medicine practitioner. I will offer my opinion on these approaches once I have a better idea of how they’ve influenced my personal health. Eventually, I’d like to get to a place where I can control my disease without the use of medication, but I have a long way to go and a lot more to learn. Until then, I’ll continue to stab myself in the leg every other week and be haunted by the frequent Humira commercials on TV.