Drug Name

Brand Name(s)

Drug Class
Janus Kinase (JAK) Inhibitor

Upadacitinib is a DMARD used to treat inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

  • What types of arthritis is upadacitinib used for?

    Upadacitinib is a DMARD used to treat inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

    Upadacitinib is recommended for use in combination with methotrexate (MTX) in adult patients with moderate to severely active RA who have had an inadequate response to MTX. For patients who cannot tolerate MTX, upadacitinib may be given as monotherapy.
    Upadacitinib is never used in combination with biologic medications.  Combining upadacitinib with biologic therapy is not recommended because of the increased risk for infection.

  • How is upadacitinib administered?

    Upadacitinib is taken orally in pill form.

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

    Upadacitinib is available in 15 mg tablets. The usual dose is one tablet daily.

  • How long will it take to work?

    Like many of the DMARDs, you will not feel the effects of upadacitinib right away. Most people may start noticing the effects about two to eight weeks after they start taking the medication, but full benefits may not occur for three to six months. It is important to be patient and keep taking your medication.

  • When should I not take upadacitinib and call my doctor?
    Upadacitinib can make it harder for your body to fight infections. Therefore, if you have a fever, think you may have an infection or have been prescribed an antibiotic, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
    Also, contact your prescriber if you are having surgery, as you may need to stop upadacitinib until you are healed and there is no sign of infection.

    Before taking upadacitinib, tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant or are breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed. Currently there are no studies to assess the use of upadacitinib during pregnancy and breastfeeding.  Your healthcare provider will discuss the risks and benefits of taking upadacitinib while you are pregnant.
    Upadacitinib may increase your risk of developing shingles.  Ideally, all your vaccinations, including the singles vaccine should be up to date prior to starting upadacitinib. If you have already started therapy with upadacitinib, most inactive vaccines are recommended (i.e. influenza, pneumococcal). Live vaccines are not recommended due to risk of causing infection. Please speak with your healthcare providers about vaccinations before starting upadacitinib.
    Anyone who has had a previous allergic reaction to upadacitinib should avoid the medication.
    Upadacitinib interacts with a number of other medications. Please speak with your healthcare provider about whether any of the other medications you currently take interact with upadacitinib. It is also recommended that you avoid grapefruit juice and St. John’s Wort while taking upadacitinib.
    Your body may harbour the bacteria that can cause tuberculosis (TB) if you have been exposed to TB in the past. You may not know you are carrying TB as the bacteria remain in an inactive state and cause no symptoms. This is known as latent TB infection (LTBI).  People with LTBI are not infectious and cannot spread TB to others.  Upadacitinib can increase the risk of reactivation of LTBI.  Prior to starting upadacitinib therapy, your prescriber will screen for LTBI. If you test positive, you will be required to take an anti-TB medication prior to starting upadacitinib. Please speak with your healthcare provider about LTBI screening before starting upadacitinib.
    Upadacitinib has been rarely associated with a small increased risk of developing certain types of cancer. Proof of a link between upadacitinib and the development of cancer is difficult as people with inflammatory arthritis are generally at a higher risk of developing certain cancers, as compared to the general population. The role of upadacitinib in the development of cancer is currently unknown.  Please speak with your healthcare provider if you have any questions.
  • What are the side effects of upadacitinib?

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

    The most common side effects of upadacitinib are nausea and upper respiratory tract infections (symptoms similar to a common cold, i.e., coughing, fatigue, etc.)  Talk to your healthcare provider if these symptoms become bothersome.

    Upadacitinib may affect your blood counts, liver or kidney function and cholesterol levels. Your healthcare provider will use blood tests to monitor for these changes.

    In rare cases, upadacitinib has been associated with stomach perforations (holes in the lining of the stomach). All patients who developed stomach perforations were also taking NSAIDs and/or corticosteroids. However, the contribution of these medications to the development of stomach perforations is not known.

    Upadacitinib should be used with caution in patients who may be at increased risk for stomach perforation (i.e. using NSAIDs and/or corticosteroids, people with a history of diverticulitis).  Stomach perforations require immediate medical attention. If you develop fever and severe stomach pain that does not go away, seek medical attention.

    Upadacitinib has rarely been associated with developing blood clots. If you develop any signs or symptoms of a blood clot in your leg (such as swelling, pain or tenderness in the leg) or in your lung (such as sudden unexplained chest pain or shortness of breath) contact a healthcare provider immediately.

  • What helps to reduce side effects?
    Take your upadacitinib as prescribed and contact your healthcare provider if you have any concerns while taking the medication.
    Taking upadacitinib with food may help reduce nausea and stomach upset.
  • Do I need any monitoring while taking upadacitinib?

    You will need blood tests one to two months after starting upadacitininb, than every three months. This is important to ensure the upadacitinib is having no harmful effects on your blood counts, liver, kidneys or cholesterol levels.

This information was last updated January 2020, with expert advice from:

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

Hamidreza Izadpanah , Pharm.D.

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