Meds and you

27 September 2013

Azathioprine

Azathioprine is an immuno-suppressant. Immuno-suppressants are drugs that slow down the body’s immune system in an attempt to keep it from mistakenly fighting healthy tissues.

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General information

Azathioprine is an immuno-suppressant. Immuno-suppressants are drugs that slow down the body’s immune system in an attempt to keep it from mistakenly fighting healthy tissues.

In South Africa Azathioprine is registered to keep the body's immune system from rejecting a transplanted organ, or to slow down the destructive processes of auto-immune diseases.

For this medication to be effective, it has to be taken regularly, even if you do not notice an immediate effect. The decision to stop using this medication should only be made by your doctor.

Be careful if you drive or do anything that requires you to be alert as this medicine may cause weakness and fatigue. Avoid any other dangerous activity until you know how this medication affects you.

Because this type of medicine increases the risk of certain types of cancer, particularly skin cancer, it is advised that you minimise sun/UV exposure and make use of protective measures to protect your skin.

Azathioprine lowers the body’s ability to fight infection. Try to avoid infections by avoiding crowds, or people who have infections.

How does azathioprine work?

Your white blood cells play an integral part in your body's immune system. Azathioprine works by decreasing the production of these white blood cells, thereby weakening the effect of your immune system.

Fast facts

Drug schedule: schedule 4

Available as: azathioprine is available as tablets and injection.

What does it do? Azathioprine slows down the body’s immune system in an attempt to keep it from mistakenly fighting healthy tissues.

Overdose risk: medium

Dependence risk: low

Is azathioprine available as a generic? yes

Is azathioprine available on prescription only? yes

User information

Onset of effect: it may take several weeks for this drug to take effect.

Duration of action: the effect of this medicine may last for several weeks.

Dietary advice: this medicine should be taken with or after a meal.

Stopping this medicine: do not stop taking this drug without consulting your doctor.

Special precautions

Consult your doctor before using this drug if:

  • you have a kidney or liver disease
  • you suffer from bone marrow suppression
  • you have an infection of some sort
  • you have a blood disorder
  • you have cancer
  • you have any chronic illness
  • you are pregnant or plan to fall pregnant
  • you are breastfeeding

Pregnancy: avoid. Potential risk to the foetus has been reported. Consult your doctor before use, or if you are planning to fall pregnant.

Breastfeeding: avoid. It is unknown how this medication may affect your baby. Consult your doctor before use.

Porphyria: this medication is safe for use.

The elderly: caution is advised in the elderly as side effects are more likely to occur.

Driving and hazardous work: caution is advised as use of this medication may lead to dizziness, light-headedness and/or sedation. Avoid such activities until you know how this medication affects you.

Alcohol: avoid concomitant use of alcohol with this medication.

Possible side effects

 

 

Side effects Frequency   Consult your doctor  
  Common Rare Only if severe In all cases
nausea x   x  
vomiting x   x  
appetite loss x   x  
hair thinning x   x  
fatigue   x x  
signs of infection   x   x
unusual bleeding or bruising   x   x

 

Interactions

Drug interactions

 

 

allopurinol increased effect of azathioprine/ increased risk of side-effects
ace-inhibitors may increase risk of blood disorders
co-trimoxazole may increase risk of blood disorders
trimethoprim may increase risk of blood disorders
warfarin decreased warfarin effect
doxorubicin increased risk of liver toxicity
salfasalazine increased levels of azathioprine and increased risk of side effects

 

Overdose action

A small overdose is no cause for concern. In case of intentional large overdose, seek emergency medical attention.

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This material is not intended to substitute medical advice, but is for informational purposes only.

               Please consult a physician for specific treatment and recommendations.

 

 

 

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