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Bold That Side Effect!

Whenever I am considering a new medication, I research the drug very thoroughly. Sometimes I wonder if I am too careful and cautious. But I’m always glad that I did my homework, asked a lot of questions, and burrowed deep into the Internet to learn about the drug.

Surprises when it comes to new medication?

My big thing is that I don’t want any surprises. If a drug could possibly turn me green and make me ribbit like a frog, I want to know. That way, when it happens to me, I know what to do and whether it is a serious problem or just a new lifestyle to which I need to adapt. In my opinion, I’m OK with turning green as long as the drug helps to alleviate my painful rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

I really don’t like finding surprises late in the game and then trying to figure out how to adapt. Right before I started a new medication recently, I discovered in some small print at the bottom of a website that it can render hormonal birth control (aka the daily pill) utterly useless and ineffective.

Hello?! Half of earth (women) to pharmaceutical companies: This is a big problem! And a hugely significant side effect! That puppy needs to be bolded at the top of your literature in large print, along with lowering a person’s immunity and increasing chances of cancer. An unexpected pregnancy can be life-threatening in some women (such as myself)!

This is my first experience having RA medications that interfere with hormonal birth control. What I learned is that a recent group of biologics that target the IL-6 receptor (such as Actemra and Kevzara) have a side effect as a result of how they are processed in the body that results in the hormonal birth control becoming ineffective.

When I saw this fine print just a couple days before starting the drug, I gasped. It had been a long road to get on a new drug due to a three-month fight with my pharmacy. I had finally gotten the approval and was expecting delivery in a couple days. What was I to do?

Learning more about the new medication

The first step was to learn more. I called the drug manufacturer and requested more details. What kind of birth control options were affected? What, if any, were not? What recommendations did they have for women who need birth control? They didn’t have much more detail than what was in the small print. Hormonal birth control pills could not be relied on for birth control. They recommended that I call my pharmacy to check interactions on the drugs I am currently taking.

So next I called the pharmacy. They confirmed that the pharmaceutical company said and suggested I discuss other birth control options with my doctor. Really not helpful.

Then I called my gynecologist and had a chat with my nurse practitioner there. I explained what I had learned and asked for ideas on other options. She also scheduled time for me to come in so that we could talk more.

Like many women, I don’t take birth control merely to prevent pregnancy. The hormones help to regulate my cycle—making it predictable, lighter, and less painful. Additionally, because of the health issues I have resulting from a severe and nearly lifelong case of RA, I have been told by my doctors that pregnancy could be dangerous for my health. There are many good reasons for hormonal birth control to support my wellness.

Unfortunately, now hormonal birth control is not an option. Since my RA has been out of control for awhile now, I decided I had to move forward with trying the drug to see if it would work for me. Additionally, since the hormonal birth control seems to be a nonstarter, I’m doing research on the only available option: a copper IUD. It seems this is the only long-term birth control that does not have a hormone component. Obviously, condoms are also an option but I prefer a longer-term birth control if I cannot have the health benefits of hormonal birth control.

While I still have many questions and am continuing my research, I think it’s important that pharmaceutical companies share side effect impacts like these that significantly impact women’s health and birth control. They are not a side issue, but directly effect health and quality of life for half the population and a majority of RA patients.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • kat-elton
    12 months ago

    Thanks for another eye opening article! Yes, I am dealing with a side effect that all my health- care providers are turning a blind eye to, and just found out my Mom is dealing with something even more serious that is caused by her biologic. Maybe we all need to turn the tables every time we see our rheumatologist and spend 5 minutes educating them about the daily impact we feel from our side effects. This is a functional issue related to living with RA, and even when we choose to continue the medication we make that conscious decision to sacrifice another aspect of well-being. This needs to be recognized more as you say, and talked about more seriously with patients. Thanks again Kelly for a great article!

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    8 months ago

    Thanks Kat! Agreed! In the case of my medication, I also think that because it’s fairly new the doctors don’t really even know the side effects. I am informing them! In all honesty, I had wanted to take an older drug for that very reason but couldn’t get the insurance approval. Thankfully, the new drug is working well on my RA. I am hoping that sharing my side effect experiences will help others and build awareness about what to expect from this newer drug. Take care! Best, Kelly ( Team)

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    12 months ago

    Oh I so agree. Women are terribly underrepresented in medical research as a whole and even in women’s health issues there are too few research dollars dedicated for that sector of the market.

    I so hope this changes and soon.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    8 months ago

    Thanks Rick! You are correct. Unfortunately women are underrepresented in medical research, along with their specific health needs. I also hope this changes. At the very least, I hope they listen to the experiences of women like me taking these drugs and relaying our experiences and issues with side effects. Thanks so much for your understanding and support. Best, Kelly ( Team)

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    12 months ago

    I don’t think I mentioned this to you but I started the pill last month! For the past year, it felt like someone took a pair of pliers to my right ovary and tried to remove the egg that way.

    While pregnancy is not my biggest concern (shutting down ovulation is!), like you, it could be life-threatening to me and the fetus.

    You’ve now inspired me to go check the fine print of all my medications. So, you may have just created a monster!! And I’ll be sure to remind you of it every time I see you! LOL

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    8 months ago

    Glad you are checking your medications, Monica! I feel silly admitting I’d never really thought about it before this experience. I stupidly thought the medical and pharmaceutical researchers were doing the job! Boy was I wrong! Unfortunately women have to be more vigilant because the “medical establishment” is not always thinking of us. Take care! Best, Kelly ( Team)

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