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7 Questions to Ask Your M.D. If She Prescribes a Biologic Drug

A drug that’s derived from living things and often administered by self-injection? Yeah, you’ve (understandably) got questions about biologic drugs—and we’ve got a handful you can go ahead and add to the list. Whether your doctor has prescribed a biologic for psoriasis that’s majorly affecting your quality of life or inflammatory bowel disease that nothing else seems to help, here are seven questions that’ll help you understand why she thinks this particular drug will benefit you, what it will really be like to have it in your life, and what you can expect longer-term.

Will it fit my lifestyle?

Many biologic drugs require self-injections at home, which you’ll need to learn to do properly. Others require infusions that take a couple hours every few weeks in a doctor’s office or at home with a home nurse. If you don’t follow the recommended treatment schedule, your drug is more likely to stop working for you, so be sure upfront that you can commit to exactly what is involved. Also worth asking: Will you need to use the drug long-term to maintain remission?

How long will it take to work?

In some cases—for example, when you’re taking a biologic drug to treat psoriasis—it may take from a couple weeks to a few months to really see the full effects, so it’s best to get a sense of what timeframe you’re looking at given your specific symptoms and treatment. If you don’t experience effects within that timeframe, let your doctor know, since she may decide a different biologic is better for you.

How likely is it to work for me?

Maybe she’s very confident you’ll see results from the first biologic you try, but sometimes there’s trial and error involved in finding the biologic that’ll be most effective for your symptoms—even for doctors experienced in prescribing them, there’s often no way to know in advance. It’s best to be mentally prepared just in case the first option isn’t the game-changer you’re hoping for. To gain clear insight into whether treatment is working, some patients get regular blood work so their physician can check for inflammatory markers.

Do many of your patients experience the side effects?

Like any drug, biologic drugs come with their own list of potential adverse effects, ranging from temporary and mild to scarier-sounding. It’s helpful to hear about how often your doctor has seen those side effects happen in her real-life experience, since the more serious ones are relatively rare. She can also help prepare you for some of the more common ones, like pain or a rash near your injection site or temporary flu-like symptoms, and empower you to avoid complications like infections resulting from the way biologics may compromise your immune system.

Is it safe to get vaccinated?

Your doctor will likely recommend you get up-to-date on vaccinations, including your seasonal flu shot, before starting a biologic drug, since certain ones can affect your immune response and make you more susceptible to infections—and certain vaccinations that contain live virus, like the MMR shot, pose additional infection risk. Be sure to get the complete lowdown on what your vaccination schedule should look like before you begin the treatment.

Can I afford it?

Because the research, development, and manufacturing process for biologics is more complex and the materials—which involve living organisms—are pricier, these treatments tend to be more expensive than traditional drugs (which, as we all know, can already break the bank). Biologics also tend to be more susceptible to light and temperature, so they require more complicated transport and storage. All of this complexity also means biologics don’t always have less-pricey generic equivalents (though sometimes they have biosimilars). Sometimes, insurance companies will require that you try less-expensive treatments before they’ll cover a biologic. Talking to your doctor is a great first step in figuring out how to estimate and manage treatment cost—especially if you’ll need to stay on the treatment long-term. One thing she may mention: Many companies that make biologics offer financial assistance plans that will help with copays, offer discounts or even provide treatment for free in specific situations.

If biologics are so effective, why wasn’t this the first drug you prescribed?

It doesn’t mean your doctor thought this drug was risky or a long shot. Because biologic drugs are expensive and more complicated to administer than topicals or pills, they’re often prescribed only after a patient has tried other drugs first. Sometimes, insurance providers may even require this. That said, there are situations where doctors may recommend a biologic first, such as when a condition is severely impacting a patient’s quality of life.

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