Immunosuppressant Drugs: A Detailed Overview

What are immunosuppressant drugs?

Immunosuppressant drugs are drugs formulated to reduce or suppress the strength of your immune system.

Some immunosuppressant drugs are formulated to reduce your body’s ability to reject a transplanted organ, like a kidney, heart, or liver. These drugs are referred to as antirejection drugs.

Immunosuppressant drugs are also used for the treatment of autoimmune conditions, such as psoriasis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

If you’ve been given a prescription, here’s what you need to know about the mechanism of action of these drugs, and the effects they may exert in your body.

Conditions treated by immunosuppressant drugs

Autoimmune conditions

Immunosuppressant drugs are used for the treatment of autoimmune conditions. When you have an autoimmune disease, it means that your body’s immune system is attacking your body’s healthy tissues. Immunosuppressant drugs make the immune system weak, meaning that they suppress this reaction. This will reduce the impact of that disease on your body.

Examples of autoimmune conditions that are treated with immunosuppressant drugs include:

Organ transplant

Immunosuppressant drugs are usually prescribed for all recipients of organ transplants. Why? Well, your immune system sees the new organ as a foreign object. So, it will launch an attack on that organ just as it would on any foreign cell. This can cause a lot of damage leading to the removal of the organ.

Immunosuppressant drugs make your immune system weak so that it won’t react strongly to the foreign organ. So, the transplanted organ can stay healthy in your body and free from damage.

List of immunosuppressant drugs

There are different types of immunosuppressant drugs. Your prescription depends on whether you have an autoimmune condition, an organ transplant, or something else.

Most recipients of immunosuppressant drugs are prescribed medications from at least one of these categories.

Janus kinase inhibitors

  • Tofacitinib

Corticosteroids

  • Prednisolone
  • Budesonide
  • Prednisone

Calcineurin inhibitors

  • Tacrolimus
  • Cyclosporine

IMDH inhibitors

  • Leflunomide
  • Azathioprine
  • Mycophenolate

mTOR inhibitors

  • Everolimus
  • Sirolimus

Monoclonal antibodies

  • Daclizumab
  • Basiliximab

Biologics

  • Adalimumab
  • Abatacept
  • Etanercept
  • Certolizumab
  • Anakinra
  • Natalizumab
  • Ixekizumab
  • Golimumab
  • Secukinumab
  • Rituximab
  • Vedolizumab
  • Tocilizumab

Treatment

Immunosuppressant drugs are not available over the counter. They are only given upon prescription from your doctor.

Immunosuppressant drugs are available in the form of capsules, tablets, injections, and liquids. Your doctor will decide the best course of treatment, and the best form to be administered.

You may be given a combination of drugs. The goal of therapy is to create a plan of treatment that will suppress your system with very minimal side effects.

You must take immunosuppressant drugs according to prescription. For those with an autoimmune disorder, a slight change in the regimen can trigger a flare-up of your condition. If you’ve undergone an organ transplant, even the littlest change from your prescribed regimen can cause organ rejection. No matter the reason for your treatment, never miss a dose, and if you do, call your healthcare provider immediately.

Tests and changes in dosage

You’ll undergo regular blood tests during treatment. The result from these tests will help your doctor to determine the effectiveness of the drugs, and to know whether there’s a need to change your dosage. Your doctor will also get to know whether you’re experiencing any side effects.

If you have an autoimmune condition, your dosage will be adjusted based on the response of your condition to the medication.

If you’ve had an organ transplant, your healthcare provider may reduce your dosage, eventually. Your dosage is reduced because the risk of organ rejection lessens over time, thus reducing the need for these medications.

It is however important to note that most beneficiaries of organ transplants will be placed on at least one immunosuppressant drug for life.

Potential side effects

Side effects for many immunosuppressant drugs vary. To know the potential side effects of the drugs you’re taking, ask your pharmacist or doctor.

It is important to note that taking immunosuppressant drugs greatly increases your risk of infection. Remember, an immunosuppressant drug weakens your immune system, making your body to be less resistant to infection. This means that you will be prone to infections, and any infections you get will be harder to treat.

Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Chills or fever
  • Pain while urinating
  • Pain in the lower side of your back
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Frequent urination