Drug Name

Brand Name(s)
Enbrel®, Brenzys®, Erelzi®

Drug Class

Etanercept is used to treat inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.  

  • What types of arthritis is etanercept used for?

    Etanercept is used to treat inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

    For RA and psoriatic arthritis, etanercept may be used as monotherapy or in combination with DMARD therapy, such as methotrexate (MTX).

    Etanercept may be used as monotherapy for treatment of ankylosing spondylitis that has not responded to DMARD therapy.

  • How is etanercept administered?

    Etanercept is delivered by subcutaneous (s.c.) injection (meaning in the fatty layer of tissue just under the skin).

  • What is the typical dose and when do I take it?

    Etanercept is usually given either once or twice a week. The dose given is 50 mg per week or 25 mg twice a week. In some circumstances, etanercept may be given in 50 mg doses twice a week.

    The medication comes in multiple use vials, single use pre-filled syringes and single use pre-filled SureClick autoinjectors for administration.

  • How long will it take to work?

    As with all biologics, you may not feel the effects of the etanercept right away. Some people begin to feel the effects of the medication fairly quickly; however, it may take three to six months to feel its full effect. It is important to be patient and keep taking your medication.

    To provide symptom relief while you are waiting for etanercept to take effect, your health-care provider may recommend taking a steroid, such as prednisone, or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).

  • When should I not take etanercept and call my doctor?

    Etanercept can make it harder for you to fight infections. People with active infections should not take etanercept. If you have a fever, think you have an infection, or have been prescribed an antibiotic contact your health-care provider. People who have had frequent infections in the past or a history of tuberculosis should discuss the use of etanercept with their health-care provider. 

    Also contact your health-care provider if you are having surgery as you may need to stop etanercept until you are healed and there is no sign of infection.

    Etanercept has not been studied in pregnant women or nursing mothers so its effect(s) on pregnant women or nursing babies are unknown. You should tell your doctor if you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant. Because of the potential for adverse reactions in nursing infants, a decision should be made with your health-care provider whether or not to discontinue nursing or the medication, taking into account the importance of the drug to the mother.

    Anyone who has had a previous allergic reaction to etanercept should avoid the medication.

    Anyone with a history of cancer or nervous system problems (like multiple sclerosis) should discuss the use of etanercept with their health-care provider.

    Etanercept may make a condition called congestive heart failure worse. Tell your doctor if you have congestive heart failure.

    Ideally, your vaccinations should be up to date prior to starting etanercept. If you have already started therapy with etanercept, your health-care provider will likely recommend most inactive vaccines (e.g., influenza, pneumococcal). Live vaccines are not recommended due to risk of causing infection. Before receiving any vaccinations while taking etanercept, you should speak with your health-care provider.

  • What are the side effects of etanercept?

    Like all medications, taking etanercept carries some risk of side effects, which must be balanced with the potential benefits. In general, the risk of joint damage and permanent disability is much greater than the risks of side effects from etanercept. When monitored properly the vast majority of side effects are rare and most improve over time and are reversible.

    Firstly, etanercept can increase your risk of infections.

    Etanercept can rarely cause a reaction (redness, pain, and itching) at the injection site. Talk to your health-care provider if these symptoms become severe.

    Rarely some people experience headaches with etanercept. If this becomes severe please speak with your health-care provider.

    Some people have developed lupus-like symptoms that disappeared after the medication was stopped. If you have chest pains that do not go away, shortness of breath or a rash on your cheeks or arms that gets worse in the sun, call your doctor right away.

    There have been rare cases of disorders that affect the nervous system of people taking etanercept or other TNF-blockers. Signs that you could be experiencing a problem affecting your nervous system include: numbness or tingling, problems with your vision, weakness in your legs, and dizziness.

    Etanercept very rarely can cause a drop in blood counts.

  • What helps to reduce side effects?

    Take etanercept as prescribed and contact your health-care provider if you have any concerns while taking the medication.

    To avoid injection site reactions injection sites should be rotated and avoid areas where the skin is tender, bruised, red and/or hard.

  • Do I need any monitoring while taking etanercept?

    Blood tests are not routinely required while you are taking etanercept. Your health-care provider may order periodic blood tests to check your blood count and follow the activity of your arthritis.

This information was last updated November 2017, with expert advice from:

Jason Kielly, B.Sc. (pharm.), Pharm.D.
Assistant Professor, School of Pharmacy, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Clinical Pharmacist, Rheumatic Health Program, Eastern Health

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