Humira As Treatment For AS: My Experience
When I was 18 years old, I developed ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a genetic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the spine. The main symptoms of AS include joint pain and fatigue. As my AS progressed, simple tasks like walking, standing, and sleeping became incredibly painful and brought me to tears. AS was attacking my joints without warning and without mercy. But today, thanks to medication, I am able to function with moderate pain levels and live a relatively “normal” life.
Starting a biologic
Once I was officially diagnosed with AS, my rheumatologist suggested that I immediately start a biologic medication called Humira. Humira works by blocking TNF (tumor necrosis factor-alpha) levels, which are elevated in people with AS. I was nervous about starting Humira — not only is it a powerful medication with side effects, but it comes in the form of an injection. The thought of regularly injecting a medication was slightly daunting. At the same time, I was excited and grateful that a medication existed that could potentially help me. My rheumatologist seemed very optimistic about Humira and I was willing to do anything to be in less pain.
Injections were nerve-wracking
Through AbbvieCare, a support program for individuals taking Humira, I was given information regarding insurance coverage, traveling with Humira, and the medication itself. I was set up for an appointment with a nurse, who walked me through how to use an auto-injector on my thigh. Self-injecting for the first time was nerve-wracking, but wasn't as bad I was expecting. From then on, I started injecting every two weeks. It didn’t take very long for Humira to work its magic. After about two months, my pain had diminished significantly. I was thrilled to finally have some relief from the fury of AS.
Humira is a part of my ankylosing spondylitis treatment
About eight months into taking Humira, I noticed my pain was getting worse near the end of the two week period, so my rheumatologist switched me to injecting every 10 days. It’s a regular part of my life now: I mark my calendar and set reminders on my phone. Then, every 10 days, I take my Humira out of the fridge and let it thaw for an hour before injecting. I usually have to work up some courage right before I inject; even though I’ve done it dozens of times now and it has gotten easier, it’s still scary to voluntarily put a needle in my body. Sometimes, I experience side effects like nausea and fatigue after injecting. Also, because Humira is an immunosuppressant, it makes me more susceptible to infections, so I have to be cautious, but the benefits heavily outweigh the costs for me.
Overall, my pain is lower
After two years, Humira is still working very well for me. Other than the occasional flare-up, my symptoms rarely reach 9s and 10s on the pain scale anymore. Humira isn’t a cure-all — I still experience daily pain, but at lower levels than before. I also have to combine Humira with NSAIDs (I take Diclofenac) and daily exercise to manage my symptoms. Overall, I feel very fortunate that I have access to Humira and that it has essentially given me my life back.
Other than back pain and fatigue, what is the most common symptom that AS patients experience?