Orencia (abatacept) is a prescription drug that has several uses. For example, it’s used to treat certain kinds of arthritis in adults and some children. Orencia can cause side effects that range from mild to serious. Examples include an increased risk of infection and headaches.
Orencia is an injection that’s used to treat the following conditions:
- rheumatoid arthritis in adults
- psoriatic arthritis in adults
- polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis in some children
It’s also used with certain other drugs to help prevent acute (sudden) graft-versus-host disease with hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Orencia can be given to adults and some children for this purpose.
The active ingredient in Orencia is abatacept. (An active ingredient is what makes a drug work.) This is a biologic medication, which means it’s made from parts of living organisms.
Orencia is usually a long-term treatment. For more information about it, see this in-depth article.
Like all drugs, Orencia can cause mild or serious side effects. Keep reading to learn more about the possible side effects of Orencia.
Orencia may cause mild or serious side effects in some people. The following list contains some common side effects that could occur.
The more common side effects of Orencia may include:
This list does not include all the possible side effects. If you have concerns about side effects of Orencia, talk with your doctor. They’ll only prescribe Orencia if they feel that the possible benefits outweigh your risk for side effects.
Orencia may cause mild side effects. These may include:
- urinary tract infection (UTI)
- back pain
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- injection site reaction, such as itchy or discolored skin
- upper respiratory infections, such as a sinus infection or the common cold
For details on headaches and upper respiratory infections, see the “Side effects explained” section below.
The list above doesn’t include all the mild side effects that Orencia may cause. To learn about all the possible side effects of Orencia, see the drug’s patient information.
Note: After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug, it tracks and reviews the side effects. If you’d like to notify the FDA about a side effect you’ve had with Orencia, visit MedWatch.
Serious side effects of Orencia are rare, but they can occur. These may include:
- serious infections
- Epstein-Barr virus or cytomegalovirus, or reactivation (flare-up) of either virus, in certain people
- severe allergic reaction
- a possible risk of cancer*
For more information about the side effects in this list, see “Side effects explained” below.
* Orencia’s role in the risk of cancer is not fully known.
Below are answers to commonly asked questions about Orencia’s side effects. If you have other questions, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
How do Orencia side effects differ when given by infusion vs. injection?
You may experience different side effects of Orencia depending on how you receive the drug.
If you receive Orencia infusions, you’ll get your treatment at your doctor’s office. Orencia infusions last about 30 minutes each for arthritis treatment. For prevention of acute (sudden) graft-versus-host disease, infusions last about 60 minutes each.
Side effects are more common when Orencia is given by IV infusion than by subcutaneous injection. Infusion-related side effects generally occur within 1 hour of the start of the infusion and may include:
If you receive Orencia by subcutaneous injection, you or your caregiver will be trained on how to inject the medication. If you give yourself the injections, you can inject into your thigh or certain areas of your belly. A caregiver may inject into your upper arm.
Injection site reactions are more common when Orencia is given by subcutaneous injection than by infusion. These side effects can be mild to moderate and may include:
- skin discoloration
Your doctor will talk with you about which form of Orencia best fits your needs.
Does Orencia cause hair loss?
No, Orencia shouldn’t cause hair loss. In studies of the drug, hair loss wasn’t a reported side effect. However, hair loss may happen in people with certain kinds of arthritis, including those that Orencia treats.
If you’re concerned about hair loss while taking Orencia, talk with your doctor. They may suggest testing to find the reason for it. They may also recommend ways to help reduce it.
Is depression a side effect of Orencia?
No, Orencia shouldn’t cause depression. This side effect wasn’t seen during studies of the drug. However, people with certain kinds of arthritis, including those that Orencia treats, may be at risk for depression.
If you think you have untreated depression or another mental health condition, talk with your doctor about your treatment options.
Could using Orencia make me gain weight?
In fact, nausea is a common side effect of Orencia, and it may reduce your appetite. This could lead to weight loss.
If you have unexplained weight changes during your Orencia treatment that concern you, talk with your doctor. They may be able to recommend tips for maintaining a weight that is healthy for you.
Does Orencia cause neurological side effects?
No, Orencia shouldn’t cause neurological (brain and nervous system) side effects. Neurological side effects weren’t seen in studies of Orencia.
During your Orencia treatment, call your doctor right away if you experience seizures, changes in vision or hearing, or feelings of numbness or weakness. Your doctor may order tests to find the cause.
Are there any long-term side effects of Orencia?
Orencia, like most medications, can cause short- or long-term side effects. Serious long-term side effects are rare but may include:
Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned about long-term side effects of Orencia. And to learn more about those in this list, see the “Side effects explained”section below.
* Orencia’s role in the risk of cancer is not fully known.
- belly pain
Other side effects seen in children during studies were similar to those seen in adults. To learn more, see the sections above that describe the mild and serious side effects of Orencia.
Learn more about some of the side effects that Orencia may cause.
Symptoms of an infection can include:
Note: Certain other infections are also possible if you’re receiving Orencia for graft-versus-host disease prevention. See the “Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus” section just below for details.
What might help
Let your doctor know if you have any symptoms of an infection. They may want to do tests to find out what kind of infection you have. They may also prescribe medication to treat it.
If necessary, your doctor may stop the Orencia treatment until your infection is gone. This is because Orencia may make serious infections harder to treat.
One way to help prevent getting infections during your treatment is to avoid people who may be sick. Also, washing or sanitizing your hands often can help prevent the spread of infection.
You can help support your immune system and possibly lower your risk for infection by:
For other suggestions on preventing infections during your treatment, talk with your doctor.
Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus
If you’re receiving Orencia to help prevent acute (sudden) graft-versus-host disease, certain serious viral infections are possible. Examples of these include cytomegalovirus and Epstein-Barr virus. If you’ve had either of these viruses in the past, Orencia can cause it to reactivate (cause symptoms). Symptoms may include:
- swollen lymph nodes
- fatigue (low energy)
- reduced appetite
What might help
For graft-versus-host disease prevention, your doctor will likely prescribe drugs for you to take with Orencia. These drugs are to help prevent cytomegalovirus and Epstein-Barr virus infections. Your doctor will also monitor you for signs of these and other infections.
A headache is one of the most common side effects of Orencia. In most cases, headaches caused by Orencia are mild.
What might help
If you get headaches from Orencia, there are several natural headache remedies you can try to help get rid of them. A few examples include:
- drinking plenty of water each day
- using a cold or warm compress
- massaging the painful area
Over-the-counter pain relievers are another option. These include acetaminophen (Tylenol) or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin). If you’re not sure whether you can safely take over-the-counter pain relievers, talk with your doctor.
Possible risk of cancer
Orencia may affect how your cells function and grow, which could possibly lead to cancer. In rare cases, certain kinds of cancer were seen in people using Orencia in studies.
However, it’s not known if Orencia was the cause of cancer in people using this drug. And people who received a placebo (a treatment with no active drug) in these studies had similar rates of cancer as people using Orencia.
Symptoms of cancer can vary, depending on the area of your body that’s affected. They may include:
- changes to your senses (vision or hearing problems, feelings of numbness)
- fatigue (low energy)
- lumps, growths, or other changes in the appearance of your skin
- unexplained weight loss or gain
What might help
Talk with your doctor right away if you think you have symptoms of cancer. Also, keep up with your routine blood tests and preventive screenings (like mammograms and colonoscopies). If you develop cancer, your doctor will prescribe treatment for it. They’ll also discuss whether you should continue taking Orencia.
Like most drugs, Orencia can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Symptoms can be mild or serious and can include:
- skin rash
- flushing (temporary warmth, redness, or deepening of skin color)
- swelling under your skin, typically in your eyelids, lips, hands, or feet
- swelling of your mouth, tongue, or throat, which can make it hard to breathe
What might help
If you have mild symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as a mild rash, call your doctor right away. They may suggest a treatment to manage your symptoms. Examples include:
- an antihistamine you take by mouth, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
- a product you apply to your skin, such as hydrocortisone cream
If your doctor confirms that you had a mild allergic reaction to Orencia, they’ll decide if you should continue using it.
If you have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or trouble breathing, call 911 or your local emergency number right away. These symptoms could be life threatening and require immediate medical care.
Keeping track of side effects
During your Orencia treatment, consider keeping notes about any side effects you’re having. Then, you can share this information with your doctor. This is especially helpful when you first start taking new drugs or using a combination of treatments.
Your side effect notes can include things like:
- what dosage of the drug you were taking when you had the side effect
- how soon after starting that dosage you experienced it
- the specific symptoms of the side effect
- how it affected your daily activities
- any other medications you were taking
- any other information you feel is important
Keeping notes and sharing them with your doctor will help them learn more about how Orencia affects you. Your doctor can use this information to adjust your treatment plan if needed.
Orencia may not be right for you if you have certain medical conditions or other factors that affect your health. Talk with your doctor about your health history before you use Orencia. Factors to consider include those in the list below.
Use of TNF blockers. You shouldn’t use Orencia if you’re also using a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blocker, such as Enbrel (etanercept), Humira (adalimumab), or Remicade (infliximab). Using these drugs with Orencia can lower your immune system’s ability to protect against infections, which raises your risk for serious (and possibly life threatening) infections. Tell your doctor about all the medications you’re taking before starting Orencia.
Current or recent infection. If you currently have an infection or have had one recently, talk with your doctor before starting Orencia. You should even report small infections, such as an open sore or cut that hasn’t healed yet. If you have an infection while taking Orencia, your risk for serious side effects may be higher.
History of Epstein-Barr virus or cytomegalovirus. If you’re receiving Orencia to help prevent acute (sudden) graft-versus-host disease, Orencia can reactivate these two viruses if you’ve had them in the past. (Reactivation means the virus flares up and causes symptoms again.) Your doctor will monitor you for signs of these and other infections during your treatment.
Weakened immune system. If you have a weakened immune system, you may have a higher risk of infections during Orencia treatment. Talk with your doctor about whether the drug is safe for you to have.
Allergic reaction. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to Orencia or any of its ingredients, you shouldn’t use this drug. Ask your doctor what other medications might be better.
Hepatitis B virus. Be sure to tell your doctor if you’ve had inflammation (swelling or damage) in your liver due to hepatitis B. Your doctor may test for the virus before you start Orencia. This is because using Orencia may cause the virus to reactivate.
Tuberculosis (TB). Before using Orencia, tell your doctor if you have TB or have had it in the past. If you develop TB while taking Orencia, your risk for serious side effects may be higher. Your doctor will likely screen you for a latent TB infection (with a resting virus that causes no symptoms) before you can start Orencia.
Vaccines (recent or upcoming). Ask your doctor if you need to get any vaccines beforestarting Orencia treatment. This drug can weaken your immune system, so you shouldn’t get live vaccines while using it. Live vaccines contain a weakened form of a virus or bacteria, and they could cause infection in people with weakened immune systems. Examples of live vaccines include chickenpox and measles, mumps, and rubella. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before getting any vaccines while using Orencia.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If you have COPD, Orencia could make your symptoms worse. Because of this, your doctor may need to monitor you more closely during your treatment. If you have COPD, talk with your doctor about whether Orencia is right for you.
Alcohol and Orencia
It should be safe to drink alcohol during Orencia treatment. However, excessive alcohol use may make your arthritis worse. Also, alcohol may interact with other drugs you’re taking.
If you drink alcohol, talk with your doctor about how much is safe, considering your condition and treatment plan.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding while using Orencia
It isn’t known if Orencia is safe to use during pregnancy. Before starting the treatment, talk with your doctor if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant. They’ll discuss your options with you.
It also isn’t known if Orencia is safe to use while breastfeeding. If you’re currently breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed during your treatment, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of using Orencia.
Orencia may cause side effects in some people. The most common side effects of Orencia are usually mild, but serious side effects can occur. If you have questions about the side effects of Orencia, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
Here are some questions to get your discussion with your doctor started:
- What other steps should I take to prevent infection during my Orencia treatment?
- Will Orencia put me at risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)?
- What tests do I need before I start Orencia?
To learn more about Orencia, see these articles:
To get information on different conditions and tips for improving your health, subscribe to any of Healthline’s newsletters. You may also want to check out the online communities at Bezzy. It’s a place where people with certain conditions can find support and connect with others.
Yes, it should be safe for you to get the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccines. That’s because these aren’t live vaccines, so they won’t raise your risk for infection. (Live vaccines contain a weakened form of a virus or bacteria.)
In some cases, if you get non-live vaccines during your Orencia treatment, they may not be as effective. However, you may still benefit from these vaccines even if you’re already using Orencia. Talk with your doctor to learn more.
You shouldn’t get any live vaccines during your Orencia treatment. They could cause infections in people with a weakened immune system, such as someone using Orencia. Examples of live vaccines include chickenpox, measles, mumps, and rubella, and the intranasal (nasal spray) version of the flu vaccine.
Check with your doctor or pharmacist before getting any vaccines while using Orencia.The Healthline Pharmacist TeamAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
Disclaimer: Healthline has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up to date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or another healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.