Frequently asked questions for Azathioprine
Q. What is Azathioprine prescribed for? How does it work?Azathioprine is an immunosuppressant which means that it acts by suppressing the immune defense system of the body. Your immune defense system helps to protect you against infections. However, sometimes your immune defense system can become overactive and can cause illness. Azathioprine is used in combination with other medicines to treat the conditions caused due to this abnormal activity of the immune system. It is used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs, like the kidney, heart or liver. It is also used to treat chronic active hepatitis, severe rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura and acquired hemolytic anemia. It is also used to treat severe cases of specified skin diseases (pemphigus vulgaris, dermatomyositis, polyarteritis nodosa, pyoderma gangrenosa), especially when corticosteroids cannot be used.
Q. How long does Azathioprine take to start working?It may take about 3 to 12 weeks before you see any benefits. Continue the medication even if you do not notice any benefits. Talk to your doctor if you face any issues.
Q. What happens if I forget to take Azathioprine?If you miss a dose of Azathioprine, take it as soon as you remember. However, skip the missed dose if it is time for your next dose. Do not take a double dose to compensate for the missed dose. inform your doctor if the dose is frequently missed.
Q. Can Azathioprine cause cancer?Azathioprine may increase the chance of developing certain cancers like skin cancer, cancer of the lymph system (lymphoma), cancer of soft tissues (sarcomas), and cervical cancer. To prevent the risk of skin cancer, avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight and wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Tell your doctor immediately if you notice any changes in your skin or any lumps or masses anywhere on your body.
Q. Is breastfeeding safe during Azathioprine treatment?No, breastfeeding should be avoided, while on Azathioprine, since it may harm the baby and cause serious side effects.
Q. Can cyclosporine and Azathioprine be taken together?Yes, you can take cyclosporine and Azathioprine together as they do not interfere with each other’s working. However, you must take the two medicines strictly as per your doctor’s advice.
Q. I have just started taking Azathioprine. What are the long-term side effects? Is there anything I should be looking out for?Being an immunosuppressant, Azathioprine can increase the chances of severe infections, decrease in blood cell counts, and malignancy. You should inform your doctor immediately if you notice any infection or fever, unexpected bruising or bleeding, black tarry stools or blood in the urine or stools. Let your doctor know if you notice any new skin sore or lump, new marks on skin or any change in the marks which were previously present.
Q. How long do I need to take Azathioprine?The duration varies from person to person as it is prescribed depending upon the patient’s medical condition.
Q. Do I need any special tests while I am on Azathioprine?Azathioprine reduces the production of blood cells making you more vulnerable to infections and can sometimes affect the liver. These side effects can be monitored by regular blood tests. Therefore, during the first 8 weeks of the treatment your doctor may recommend weekly blood tests to monitor complete blood counts, including platelet counts. The frequency can later be reduced to monthly or at least once in 3 months time.