Why am I being prescribed azathioprine?
Azaathioprine is used in the treatment of several different types of rheumatic disease, including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), inflammatory muscle disease and vasculitis. Azathioprine has effects on the immune system ( the body’s own defence system). One of its actions is to reduce the activity of the immune system, so it is always used with care. Doctors often prescribe it for patients on steroid treatment so that their steroid dose can be reduced.
When do I take azathioprine?
Azathioprine comes as 50mg tablets. It is taken either once or twice a day with or after food.
What dose do I take?
Your doctor will advise you. Usually you will start on a low dose (for example, 25mg to 50mg per day) and your doctor may increase this if necessary. The dose you are given will depend on your body weight.
Azathioprine is not a pain-killer. So if you are on an anti-inflammatory drug or pain-killers you may continue to take these as well as azathioprine, unless your doctor advises otherwise.
How long will azathioprine take to work?
Azathioprine does not work immediately. It may be 6 to 12 weeks before you notice any benefit.
What are the possible side-effects?
Sometimes azathioprine can cause sickness, diarrhoea, skin rashes, loss of appetite or hair loss. Taking azathioprine can make you more likely to develop infections.
You should inform your doctor if you experience
- sore throat
- unexplained bruising or bleeding
- jaundice (yellow discolouration of eyes and skin)
Should you develop chicken-pox or shingles, you should go to your doctor immediately as you may need special treatment
Do I need any special tests while on azathioprine?
Because azathioprine can lower the blood count and can sometimes cause liver problems, your doctor will arrange for you to have regular blood tests while on azathioprine. This is important. You may be asked to keep a record booklet with your blood test results. Bring this with you when you visit your doctor. It is important to have regular blood tests while you are on azathioprine.
Can I take other medicines along with azathioprine?
Some drugs interact with azathioprine and you should always tell any doctor treating you that you are taking azathioprine. You should not take ‘over-the-counter’ preparations without discussing first with your doctor. However, many drugs can be safely taken with azathioprine.
Can I have immunisation while on azathioprine?
You should avoid immunisation which involve any of the live vaccines such as BCG, measles, mumps, polio and rubella (German measles).
Does azathioprine affect fertility or pregnancy?
You should not normally take azathioprine when pregnant. If you are planning a family or become pregnant while taking azathioprine, you should discuss this with your doctor as soon as possible. You should not breast feed if you are taking azathioprine.