Stelara

Written by Dr. Brian Bressler on October 31, 2019

What is Stelara?

Stelara (ustekinumab) reduces inflammation by blocking the activity of substances called interleukin 12 (IL-12) and interleukin 23 (IL-23).

Stelara is used to treat Crohn’s disease, plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Stelara is often used when other drugs have not worked for you, or have caused bad side effects.

How is Stelara given?

The first dose of Stelara is given via an intravenous (IV) infusion. The subsequent doses are given as a subcutaneous (SC) injection, otherwise known as an injection just under the skin into the fatty tissue. After the first IV induction dose, you will continue with the SC injections once every 8 weeks.

The Stelara IV infusion is administered at various infusion clinics. Thereafter, you can be taught how to self- administer your SC doses, or if you prefer, you can continue receiving these injections at the clinic where a nurse can administer the injections for you.

Important information

You may need to reschedule your infusion or hold your injection if you have an infection and/or are running a fever.

It is recommended that your immunizations are up to date prior to starting on therapy. The annual Flu shot should be received when it is available. However, while on Stelara, please note that all live vaccines must be avoided.

Regular bloodwork monitoring should be done every 2-3 months while on treatment to monitor your response to therapy.

During the maintenance phase, it is important to schedule a consultation with your doctor once every year to ensure your health management and treatment is up to date.

Stelara side effects

Common side effects of Stelara (ustekinumab):

  • Body aches or pain
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Difficulty with breathing
  • Ear congestion
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Lower back or side pain
  • Loss of voice or hoarseness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Painful or difficult urination
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness

Some side effects of Stelara can happen almost immediately in direct response to the infusion. Others side effects may not appear until several days, or even months, after the infusion.

Some side effects are mild and go away on their own. Side effects that are more serious may require treatment.

Additional details about the side effects of Stelara are:

  • Increased risk of infection: As Stelara manipulates the activity of the immune system, this may increase your risk of infections from bacteria, viruses, and certain kinds of fungi. This medication can reactivate Tuberculosis (TB) if you’ve been exposed and it is dormant in your body. A TB skin test is required prior to starting treatment. Please let the doctor know if you have any known exposure or prior history of TB.
  • Allergic/Hypersensitivity reactions: These reactions may occur at anytime during treatment. Please let your doctor know if you notice any skin rashes.
  • Cancer: Although many drugs that manipulate the activity of the immune system may increase the risk of cancer, Stelara is not known to be associated with any particular risk.

Your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits before you start on Stelara. Let your doctor or nurse know about any new symptoms you develop while on Stelara.

When will I start to feel better?

Although it is possible to see some benefits after the first infusion, the full effects of the medication can take several months.

You should book a follow-up appointment with your doctor to evaluate your response to treatment within 1-2 months of starting the treatment.

How long do I have to take this medication?

Stelara is used to induce remission and then used as a maintenance agent. This medication can be used long- term to control inflammation and prevent flares.

Can I drink alcohol while on this medication?

Yes, alcohol can be consumed in moderation.

What happens when I want to get pregnant?

Although there are no known safety concerns with the use of Stelara during pregnancy, studies are limited. Please discuss your family planning with your doctor for more information.