Rituximab (Rituxan®)

What is Rituximab (Rituxan®)?

Rituximab is used to reduce signs and symptoms of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA), such as joint swelling, pain, and fatigue.  Your doctor has prescribed Rituximab because you have not had an adequate response to other RA medications. Rituximab works by reducing specific cells that may be responsible for the pain and inflammation seen in RA. The brand name for Rituximab is Rituxan®.

How do I take it?

Rituximab is an infusion (intravenous medication).  A course of treatment is 2 separate IV infusions of Rituximab 2 weeks apart. You will receive a dose of corticosteroids by IV before your dose of Rituximab.  This is to help prevent any side effects during the infusion.  Your vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, etc) will be monitored by nurses while you receive the medication.  The infusion lasts about 4½ hours. Many people will require another course of treatment about 6 months after the first course.  Your doctor will monitor your RA activity and help your decide when and if you need another course of treatment.

What about side effects?

The most common side effect is a reaction during your infusion.  The medication you receive before your infusion will help to prevent any type of reaction.  Another side effect is infection. Rituxan can lower the body’s ability to fight infection.  Be sure to contact your physician if you have any type of infection or if you are planning a surgery.

Make sure your doctor knows if you have ever had Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.  Hepatitis B can be reactivated by Rituximab.  You should not take Rituximab if you have ever had Hepatitis B.

You should not take a live vaccine (Flu-Mist, chicken pox vaccine, shingles vaccine) while on abatacept.  The flu-shot is not a live virus and all patients should consider having this vaccination yearly. It is unknown if immunizations are as effective in patients receiving Rituximab.  If possible you may want to complete any immunization series before starting this medication.

What about other medications?

Never take Rituximab with any TNF blocker such as HumiraÒ, EnbrelÒ, or RemicadeÒ.
When you are taking Rituximab, it is very important that your doctors know if you are taking any other medicine. This includes prescription and non-prescription medicines as well as birth control pills, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

What else should I know?

You must continue your regular visits to the rheumatologist. Your doctor will monitor you for any improvements in your rheumatoid arthritis.  It may take 2 months before any improvement in symptoms occurs.

Updated: April 25, 2012

Victoria Ruffing, RN

About Victoria Ruffing, RN

Ms. Ruffing has been a member of the Arthritis Center since 2000, currently serving as the Nurse Manager. She is a critical member of our patient care team.