Answers to Common Questions About RA Infusions

How do RA infusions work? How can I prepare? Robin Gawlik, BS, RN, of the Rheumatology Nurses Society, answers these questions and more.

Health Monitor Staff
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These days 49-year-old Margie Abrams juggles a family, a home and a demanding full-time job. And if a 25-year-history of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) isn’t putting the brakes on her life, the Stony Point, NY, resident says she owes it all to the biologic medication she’s been on. “I love it!” says Margie. “I have been getting infusions regularly for about seven years, and they work great.”

The results are a huge improvement from her prior treatment, and she says her energy levels are sky high.

If your doctor has recommended a biologic medication that is administered via infusion, you can have every hope that, like Margie, you’ll also enjoy positive results. 

And if you’re wondering what to expect from the experience itself, read on for the questions and answers that will help you feel prepared and provide peace of mind.

Why is my doctor prescribing a biologic infusion? How does it work?
Your rheumatologist simply feels a biologic—medications that inhibit the immune system triggers that cause inflammation—will bring you more relief than your current treatment. It just so happens that the body cannot absorb biologic medications in oral form. And certain biologics are given intravenously, rather than as an injection under the skin.

Is there anything I should do to get ready?
Get a good night’s rest, and drink plenty of water or other caffeine-free beverages the day before your session—it makes your veins more prominent, which makes it easier for your nurse to start your IV. Eat a nice meal before coming in and take any medication as recommended by your rheumatologist.

You’ll want to feel comfortable, so ask the nurse about the temperature of the room (infusion suites tend to be cool) and dress appropriately. You might even want to take a cozy blanket. And don’t forget to toss in a snack in case you get hungry. This is also a good time to prepare a list of questions for your nurse.

So what can I expect?
Once you’re settled into your chair in the infusion suite, your nurse will insert a catheter into a vein, usually in your hand or arm. Then the medication will be introduced via the catheter into your vein. Odds are, you won’t feel a thing. However, some people say they notice a cool sensation as the medication enters their body.

How long will it take?
Your infusion can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on your medication. Check with your doctor or infusion nurse ahead of time. The information will come in handy if you need to arrange transportation.

Is it okay to interact with other patients?
It happens all the time in my infusion suite! I’ve seen patients do everything from work on a challenging crossword puzzle together to simply chatting about their experiences with RA. It’s the perfect opportunity to exchange helpful tips. Discussing pets is also popular. Patients even started bringing in pictures of their dogs—we’ve collected so many they cover an entire bulletin board! 

August 2013