What to Expect During an Infusion of a Biologic
Today I am going to talk about what it’s like to get an infusion of a biologic medication to treat Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Two questions that I receive most often on my website in regards to receiving infusions are:
- Is it safe?
- What is an infusion like?
Today I will be focusing on what it’s like to receive an infusion of a biologic medication. When I first started dating my boyfriend I was receiving one biologic via infusion in Michigan and he was on another biologic and receiving it in Illinois where he lives. I’ve had my infusions done at 3 different locations and have gone with him for his to a couple locations.
What is interesting about infusions is that it seems like regardless of the medication being received or the location there is a lot about the process that remains the same or very similar. With that said keep in mind that this is just a general post and experiences will vary slightly.
Currently Remicade, Entyvio, and Tysabri are the biologics that are approved to treat Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in the US and can be administered by infusion. One drug on the horizon for the treatment of IBD will begin with an induction of an infusion and will then switch to self-injection after the initial infusion dose.
Before the Infusion
- When you arrive you will check in. Some places I have been to required me to get a hospital band put on, but generally you will just check in and wait to be called back.
- You might be receiving your infusion at an infusion clinic which usually is one large room with many chairs that have IV poles next to them. Aside from IBD patients there will be patients there with different health conditions receiving different medications. People go to infusion clinics for biologics, chemotherapy, blood transfusions, iron infusions, antibiotics, fluids, and more. When I first began biologic infusions I had them done in an infusion clinic that had private rooms for each patient and you could choose between a reclining chair or a bed. That was nice!
- Once you are in your chair (or bed) a nurse will come and take your vitals and your temperature and possibly weigh you. When I was on Remicade I was weighed each time. The nurse might also ask you some questions like if you’ve been sick recently, have any open wounds, and if you are having any pain.
- While all of this is going on the pharmacy will be mixing your infusion. They do not get it ready before you arrive in case you don’t show up as they do not want to waste such expensive medication.
- Next your IV will be started. If you’re anything like me this could take quite a long time. For one infusion it took 4 different nurses and 8 pokes!
- Pre-Meds: Some patients receive medications before the infusion starts called pre-meds. Pre-meds are to reduce your chance of a reaction to the infusion. Some doctors start you with pre-meds from the beginning and others add it later on if you have a slight reaction. I was started on pre-meds from the beginning and received oral Tylenol 500 and 50mg Benadryl through my IV.
During the Infusion
- During your infusion the nurse will check on you periodically and take your vitals a few more times.
- Depending on what medication you are on will depend on the amount of time you are there. The standard time for Entyvio infusions are half an hour and the standard time for a Remicade infusion is 2 hours.
- For the remainder of the infusion the choice is yours for what you do with your time! It can get pretty boring just sitting there so bringing something to do helps.
- During my infusions at one clinic a guy walked around with a bunch of snacks and offered coffee. That was a nice bonus. Thanks, snack man!
After the Infusion
- Once the infusion ends you might have to let fluids run through the line for a while to get every last bit of the biologic medication through your line.
- You may also be required to stay at the clinic for a short period of time so you can be monitored for any kind of reaction. This is usually only required when you first start receiving the infusion and you will not have to do it every time.
Tips to Make the Infusion Experience Better
- If you are getting Remicade ask your doctor about Rapid Remicade. There have been studies done that found that the standard 2 hour infusion can be done in half the time safely and successfully. I got rapid Remicade when I was on it and it shortened the infusion time by half!
- Bring things with you to occupy your time. I liked to bring my computer and headphones with me to keep me entertained. Many of the times I would work on blog posts for my website. Other ideas are: A book to read, coloring books, homework, your planner to organize your week, etc.
- Dress comfortable. When I was first on Remicade I used to wear my pajamas and sleep during my infusion because the IV Benedryl I was given as a pre-med would make me sleepy. I got used to it over time and could no longer sleep during infusions but I still liked to dress comfy unless I had somewhere to be afterward.
Hope this helps you understand what infusions are like. If you are currently receiving infusions of biologic medications what has been your experience? Is it similar or different? Let us know in the comments!