Enbrel (Etanercept) Side Effects

Enbrel is an injectable prescription used to treat many forms of arthritis as well as plaque psoriasis. This medication helps relieve symptoms of arthritis by decreasing inflammation. Occasionally, Enbrel will be referred to by the name of its main ingredient, etanercept. 

For most people, an Enbrel injection is a weekly occurrence. Some people will have a weekly appointment with their doctor for these injections, while others will learn to give themselves the injection at home.

At this time, Enbrel is only available in the form of an injection, and there is no generic available.

A woman is giving a man an injection in the arm. The woman is on the left of the photo, the man is to the right and wearing a short sleeve blue shirt.

Common Side Effects

All medications have a risk of side effects. Some side effects will be minor and go away within a few uses. Other side effects may hang around a little longer. 

For instance, it is possible to experience a reaction at the injection site. An injection site reaction typically includes redness, swelling, itching, bruising, pain, and bleeding. For most people, these reactions are so mild there is no need to stop taking this medication. In fact, for many people, this reaction will stop occurring after the first few injections.

Regardless, if you are experiencing any of the following side effects and do not improve or find them bothersome, talk to your prescribing health care provider or pharmacist. 

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Respiratory infections
  • Runny nose
  • Change in taste
  • Rash
  • Itchy skin
  • Fever

Serious Side Effects

Some side effects are more severe than others. If you are experiencing a severe side effect, you should contact the health care provider who prescribed Enbrel to inform them of this reaction.

If you are experiencing a life-threatening side effect, seek emergency care, or call 911.

Check with your health care provider immediately if you experience any unusual problems while taking Enbrel. Some of the more serious side effects are:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Depression
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Frequent or painful urination
  • Unusually stiff joints or muscles
  • Stomach pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Swelling in legs, ankles, or feet

While any side effects are concerning, the following side effects may be life-threatening, and urgent medical care is advised. Please go to the nearest emergency center or call 911 for any of the following side effects:

  • Chest tightness
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Sudden vision change
  • Swelling of your face, throat, and eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures

Those who take Enbrel may increase the possibility of developing lymphoma, leukemia, skin cancer, among other types of cancers.

If there is a concern about a possible overdose, please call the Poison Control Helpline at 1-800-222-1222. 

Warnings

Black Box Warning

Like most medications, Enbrel does come with a black box warning. The black box warning's purpose is to inform both patients and health care providers of a potentially dangerous consequence related to the medication. In the case of Enbrel, a black box warning alerts us about the increased risk of tuberculosis. Enbrel may reactivate a previous tuberculosis infection or make it easier to contract tuberculosis. 

Interactions

While interactions and side effects are different, they are both a risk of taking any medication. Interactions can happen with vitamins, supplements, other medicines, and—in some cases—with certain foods. Since interactions can be life-threatening, your doctor must know of any medications, supplements, and vitamins you take.

Similar to side effects, there is a possibility of an interaction not being listed. Either because it is not known at this time or only occurs in rare instances. The interactions listed below are the most common.

Previous History of Tuberculosis (TB)

Since Enbrel can reactivate an otherwise dormant TB infection, it is crucial your health care provider know if you ever were exposed or had a TB infection.

Active Infection

If you have an active infection, Enbrel may increase your risk of developing a more severe illness. Talk with your doctor about how to handle your weekly dose while healing from any infection.

Congestive Heart Failure

Two Enbrel studies involving patients with a history of Cardiac Heart Failure (CHF) could not be completed. One study noticed a higher death rate while another noted worsening of the patient's congestive heart failure (CHF). 

Immunizations

Ideally, you will have completed your vaccine series before starting Enbrel. However, if you have not, you should know it's important to avoid live vaccines. Popular live vaccines include the chickenpox vaccine and the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Nursing Mothers

While there is no definitive study regarding Enbrel passing through breast milk, similar studies on other medications have shown a possible risk to the infant. A decision should be made to either stop taking Enbrel or stop breastfeeding.

A Word From Verywell

Talk to your doctor about any side effects you may be experiencing. If these side effects are bothersome, you may be able to try another medication less likely to cause you problems. Call your pharmacist or health care provider if you notice any unusual problems while taking Enbrel.

At Verywell, our goal is to provide you with accurate and relevant information. However, there is no guarantee all complications and interactions are listed. Always take time to speak with your health care provider about possible interactions or concerns about taking any medication.

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  1. MedlinePlus. Etanercept injection. Updated July 15, 2018.

  2. Food and Drug Administration. Highlights of prescribing information.