By Cindy Berry, RN, BSN
This week’s IGL blog is sponsored by NuFACTOR Specialty Pharmacy.
Understanding the most common, mild side effects of immune globulin (IG) therapy is important when setting proper expectations during treatment. It is also important to recognize when unexpected side effects occur, and what to do about them.
It’s necessary to take measures to minimize side effects when receiving IG therapy. These measures include staying well-hydrated, taking pre-medications as ordered and listening to your body. But, even when diligently taking these measures, unexpected side effects sometimes occur. With the exception of anaphylaxis, most of these side effects generally occur after an infusion, and they are usually considered either moderate or severe. In every instance, they need to be evaluated by a physician, and in some cases, medical intervention is necessary.
Moderate side effects are those that usually affect your daily activities such as going to work, sleeping well, eating and even showering. The most common reported moderate side effect is a headache lasting more than 24 hours with a pain rate of 6 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. This means taking medications such as Tylenol or Advil does not help alleviate symptoms. Sometimes, this headache can progress into a more serious headache called aseptic meningitis.
Aseptic meningitis occurs when the IG drug has caused irritation of the meninges in the brain, resulting in symptoms that present like meningitis. This unexpected side effect can occur during an infusion or after an infusion. Patients experience an excruciating headache, as well as neck pain and stiffness, and generally, patients will have severe sensitivity to light. Vomiting is also very common. If these symptoms present, the patient should go to the emergency room for evaluation. Usually, IV hydration, IV steroids, IV antiemetics and IV pain medication are given to help alleviate symptoms. With proper medical intervention, patients usually feel better within 24 to 48 hours.
Renal dysfunction is another unexpected side effect that can be caused by IG therapy. This side effect is more common in patients who are over the age of 65, and who have pre-existing conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. Patients should pay particular attention to any changes in urination, including color changes (dark or amber colored urine can signify a change in kidney function) and a decrease in urine output. If either or both symptoms are experienced, a physician should be notified, and the patient should be evaluated immediately. Since renal dysfunction is a potential serious adverse event, it is important to have periodic renal testing, which is easily accomplished with blood work ordered by a physician.
Thrombolytic events, or clot formation, have been reported in very few cases. Although this is a very uncommon side effect, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Patients at greatest risk include those with a history of thrombotic events, history of diabetes, advanced age, multiple cardiovascular risk factors, impaired cardiac output and long periods of immobilization. If a clot is formed, this usually occurs after an infusion. Symptoms of a possible thrombolytic event include severe chest pain and difficulty breathing, which could be an indication of a pulmonary embolism or possible myocardial infarction. If severe chest pain is experienced at any time, immediate attention is needed, and 911 should be called.
The final, most serious side effect that is unlikely to occur is anaphylaxis. It is the least-likely serious side effect that can occur. Anaphylaxis usually occurs within the first 15 to 30 minutes of an infusion. It is characterized by a sudden onset of any of the following symptoms: difficulty breathing (chest tightness, bronchospasms, wheezing), changes in the gastrointestinal system (severe cramps, vomiting, diarrhea), cardiovascular changes (low pulse rate, high pule rate, hypotension/shock, chest pain) or skin changes (hives, angioedema, rash). If anaphylaxis is suspected, 911 should be called immediately. If it occurs during your infusion, your nurse will administer emergency medications to help control the symptoms. Medical attention is required and necessary, and 911 should be called despite the administration of emergency medications.
Although the list of unexpected side effects may seem scary, it is important to remember that while most patients will experience mild side effects, they do not typically experience serious ones. In any event, it is always important to understand them and to have your physician’s number ready. Always inform your healthcare team of any changes in response to IG therapy.
Immune Globulin Therapy Side Effects When receiving IG therapy – either by IV administration or subcutaneous administration, it is important to understand the difference between side effects that are expected and side effects that are not expected. Since side effects may have an onset after drug administration, it is important for the patient and/or caregiver to identify when to seek medical attention.