Immunomodulators are medicines that change your immune system so it works more effectively. They include treatments that increase or decrease your immune response. Immunomodulators treat various conditions, including cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Immunomodulators are drug treatments that change your body’s immune response. Your immune system is a vast network of organs, white blood cells, proteins and other chemicals that protect you from threats. Germs and diseased cells, like cancer cells, cause a healthy immune system to spring into action to fight.
Several conditions can prevent your immune system from working to protect you. When this happens, you may need an immunomodulator to help your immune system work more effectively.
Immunomodulators fall into two general categories based on how they work. Immunomodulators may:
Immunomodulators treat many conditions, including:
Immunomodulators include many drug classes and drug types that treat many conditions. They work in various ways to increase or suppress your immune response.
Immunotherapy trains your immune system so it’s better at finding cancer cells and killing them. Cancer cells are good at bypassing your immune system’s typical defenses. Immunotherapy boosts your immune response, making it harder for cancer cells to thrive.
Corticosteroids lessen your immune response and reduce inflammation in your body. They’re some of the most commonly prescribed immunosuppressants. Corticosteroids treat autoimmune conditions, allergies and some cancers.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) include many medicines that lessen your immune response. A decreased response reduces pain and inflammation. DMARDs are a common treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Some forms also treat other autoimmune conditions, allergies, skin conditions and some cancers. Some traditional DMARDs may also prevent your body from rejecting an organ following a transplant.
Biologics are a newer form of DMARDs. They consist of proteins engineered in a lab. Biologics target specific cells and pathways that cause inflammation. They’re stronger than traditional DMARDs.
Janus kinase inhibitors are DMARDs that are like biologics. They’re sometimes called biosimilars. These drugs reduce inflammation by limiting the activity of certain enzymes (Janus kinases).
Your prescription will include instructions about how you’ll receive your medicine. Ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions about how you should take them.
You may receive an immunomodulator:
Potential side effects differ depending on the specific treatment you’re receiving.
Some of the more common side effects include:
Discuss all potential side effects with your healthcare provider before starting an immunomodulator.
Your immune system is an important regulatory system in your body. Changing your immune system can interrupt processes that protect you from germs and diseases. For example, suppressing your immune system can increase your risk of infections.
Immunomodulators that stimulate your immune system can cause autoimmune reactions. This means your immune system attacks your own tissues. This most commonly leads to issues with:
Your healthcare provider can discuss these risks with you. Depending on the medicine you’re taking, you may need regular appointments to ensure the medicine is helping without putting you at risk.
Effectiveness depends on your condition and your specific treatments. Immunomodulators can help manage symptoms or prevent your condition from worsening.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Immunomodulators are medicines that change your immune system so it works more effectively. Ask your healthcare provider what to expect if you’re on an immunomodulator. Uses of immunomodulators are as varied as the conditions they treat. Your provider can explain the benefits and potential risks of any new treatments, including immunomodulators.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/10/2023.
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