Immunosuppressant drugs are medicines that reduce the body's natural defensesagainst foreign invaders or materials. Used in transplant patients, these drugs help prevent their bodies from rejecting transplanted organs.
When an organ, such as a liver, a heart or a kidney, is transplanted from oneperson (the donor) into another (the recipient), the recipient's immune system has the same response it has to any foreign material: It attacks and tries to destroy the organ. Immunosuppressant drugs help prevent this fromhappening by subduing the natural immune response. However, the drugs' actionalso makes the body more vulnerable to infection. For that reason, people who take these kinds of medicine need to be especially careful to avoid infections.
In addition to being used to prevent organ rejection, immunosuppressant drugssometimes are used to treat severe skin disorders such as psoriasis and other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease (chronic inflammation of the digestive tract) and patchy hair loss (alopecia areata).
Immunosuppressant drugs are available only with a physician's prescription and come in tablet, capsule, liquid, and injectable forms. Commonly used immunosuppressant drugs include azathioprine (Imuran), cyclosporine (Sandimmune) and tacrolimus (Prograf).
The physician will decide exactly how much of the medicine each patient needs. It is vital that the patient take this medicine exactly as directed. Nevertake smaller, larger or more frequent doses, and do not take the drug for longer than directed. Taking too much may increase the risk of side effects, while taking too little may not do any good. Nor should a patient stop taking the drug without checking with the physician who prescribed it.
Seeing a physician regularly while taking immunosuppressant drugs is important. These regular check-ups will allow the physician to make sure the medicineis working as it should and to watch for unwanted effects. These medicines are very powerful and can cause serious side effects, such as high blood pressure, kidney problems and liver problems. Some side effects may not show up until years after the medicine is used. However, the good these drugs can do may outweigh the possible harm. Anyone who has been advised to take immunosuppressant drugs should thoroughly discuss the risks and benefits with his or herphysician
Immunosuppressant drugs lower a person's resistance to infection and can makeinfections harder to treat. The drugs can also increase the chance of uncontrolled bleeding. Anyone who has a serious infection or injury while taking immunosuppressant drugs should get prompt medical attention and should make sure that the physician in charge knows about the medicine.
Immunosuppressant drugs may cause the gums to become tender and swollen or tobleed. If this happens, check with a physician or dentist right away. Regular brushing, flossing, cleaning and gum massage may help prevent this problem.Ask the dentist for advice on how to clean the teeth and mouth without causing injury.
People who have certain medical conditions or who are taking certain other medicines may have problems if they take immunosuppressant drugs. Before takingthese drugs, be sure to let the physician know about allergies, whether you are pregnant or on oral birth control pills, or who have shingles or chicken pox.
Taking immunosuppressant drugs with certain other drugs may affect the way the drugs work or may increase the chance of side effects.
People who take immunosuppressant drugs may be at higher than normal risk ofdeveloping certain kinds of cancer later in life. However, the drugs may be necessary to prevent the failure of a life-saving transplant. The possible harm must be carefully weighed against the drugs' benefits. Discussing the medicine's good and bad points with a physician will help a patient decideabout whether to take immunosuppressant drugs.
Some side effects of immunosuppressant drugs are minor and usually go away asthe body adjusts to the medicine. These include loss of appetite, nauseaor vomiting, increased hair growth, and trembling or shaking of the hands. Medical attention is not necessary unless these side effects continue or cause problems.
The risk of cancer or infection may be greater when immunosuppressant drugs are combined with certain other drugs which also lower the body's ability to fight disease and infection. Anyone who takes immunosuppressant drugs should let the physician know all other medicines he or she is taking and should askwhether the possible interactions can interfere with treatment.