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Arthritis health centre


BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have rheumatoid arthritis. It tells you about etanercept, a treatment used for rheumatoid arthritis. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

Yes. Etanercept reduces the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis.

Etanercept and drugs like it are usually offered to people only when other treatments haven't helped.

What is it?

Etanercept is a type of medicine called an anti-TNF drug. Like some of the other treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, anti-TNF drugs don't just help with pain and swelling. They also slow down the damage to your joints. Drugs that do this are called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs for short). Anti-TNF drugs are a newer type of DMARD. You may also hear them called biologic drugs, or biologics.

The brand name for etanercept is Enbrel. It's given as an injection under your skin, usually twice a week.

Several anti-TNF drugs are available in the UK. To find out about the others, see Infliximab, Adalimumab, Certolizumab, and Golimumab.

How can it help?

Anti-TNF drugs can reduce the pain and swelling in your joints. This may make it easier for you to do things like going shopping, doing the housework, having sex, seeing your friends and doing other things you enjoy.

The studies on etanercept show that up to 7 in 10 people had at least some improvement in the swelling and pain in their joints. [75] About 1 in 4 people found that their arthritis got much better.

Studies show etanercept works at least as well as methotrexate to improve swelling and pain in joints. And it may work slightly better to prevent the joints wearing down. [76] Taking etanercept and methotrexate together works better than taking etanercept alone. [77]

One study looked at etanercept for people who'd not had good pain relief from methotrexate. It showed that etanercept alone, or in addition to methotrexate, worked well to reduce pain and stiffness. [78]

How does it work?

TNF (or tumour necrosis factor) is a chemical in your blood. Anti-TNF drugs stop this chemical working. Scientists think that this chemical makes your immune system attack the lining of your joints. This causes swelling and pain.

Can it be harmful?

Side effects from etanercept are quite common. But they are usually very mild and should not stop you using this treatment. Less than 1 in 100 people stop taking etanercept because of side effects. [79]

If you take etanercept, you may get some of the following side effects:

  • Chest infections

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Runny nose

  • Skin rash

  • Diarrhoea

  • Mouth ulcers

  • A skin reaction. Nearly half of people taking etanercept sometimes get a skin reaction at the spot where etanercept is injected. But these reactions are usually mild and do not need any treatment.

Last Updated: June 22, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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