Tocilizumab treats rheumatoid arthritis and certain types of arthritis in children. Can increase your risk for serious infections. Report signs of infections such as a fever to your doctor.


Tocilizumab Overview

Reviewed: June 5, 2012

Tocilizumab is a prescription medication used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in adults. It is also used to treat systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SJIA) or polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (PJIA) in children 2 years or older.

Tocilizumab is referred to as an interleukin-6, or IL-6, receptor inhibitor. IL-6 is a molecule produced by the body that binds to the IL-6 receptor and causes inflammation. Patients with arthritis have increased levels of IL-6 in their body. By blocking the IL-6 receptor, tocilizumab can decrease the symptoms of arthritis.

Tocilizumab comes in an injectable form to be given directly into a vein (IV) by a healthcare provider. It is usually given once every 4 weeks for RA and PJIA or every 2 weeks for SJIA.

Common side effects of tocilizumab are cold-like symptoms, increased blood pressure, and headache. 

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Tocilizumab Cautionary Labels

Uses of Tocilizumab

Tocilizumab is a prescription medicine used to treat: 

  • Adults with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA) after at least one other medicine called a Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drug (DMARD) has been used and did not work well.
  • People with active polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (PJIA) ages 2 and above.
  • People with active systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SJIA) ages 2 and above.

This medication may be prescribed for other uses. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

Tocilizumab Drug Class

Tocilizumab is part of the drug class:

Side Effects of Tocilizumab

Tocilizumab can cause serious side effects. See "Drug Precautions" for some serious side effects of tocilizumab.

Tocilizumab may cause Hepatitis B infection in people who carry the virus in their blood.  Your doctor may do blood tests before you start, and during treatment with tocilizumab. Tell your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms of a possible hepatitis B infection:
  • feel very tired
  • chills
  • skin or eyes look yellow
  • stomach discomfort
  • little or no appetite
  • muscle aches
  • vomiting
  • dark urine
  • clay-colored bowel movements
  • skin rash 
  • fevers
Your doctor may do blood tests before you start, and during tocilizumab treatment. 

Serious allergic reactions, including death, can happen with tocilizumab. Tell your doctor right away if you have any of the following signs of a serious allergic reaction: 

  • shortness of breath or trouble breathing 
  • skin rash
  • swellng of the lips, tongue, or face 
  • chest pain
  • feeling dizzy or faint

Multiple Sclerosis (an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal chord) has been diagnosed rarely in people who take tocilizumab. It is not known what effect tocilizumab may have on some nervous system disorders. Common side effects of tocilizumab include:

  • upper respiratory tract infections (common cold, sinus infections)
  • increased blood pressure (hypertension)
  • headache 
Tell your doctor if you have any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away. These are not all of the possible side effects of tocilizumab. For more information, ask your doctor or pharmacist. 


Tocilizumab Interactions

Tell your doctor about all of the medicines you take, including prescription and non­-prescription medicines, vitamins and herbal supplements. Tocilizumab and other medicines may affect each other causing side effects. Especially tell your doctor if you take:

  • any other medicines to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis 
  • etanercept (Enbrei)
  • adalimumab (Humira) 
  • infliximab (Remicade) 
  • rituximab (Rituxan)
  • abatacept (Orencia) 
  • anakinra (Kineret) 
  • certolizumab (Cimzia)
  • golimumab (Simponi)

Taking tocilizumab with these medicines may increase your risk of infection. 

This is not a complete list of tocilizumab drug interactions. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.


Tocilizumab Precautions

Tocilizumab can cause serious infections by lowering the ability of your immune system to fight infections including tuberculosis (TB), as well as others. These are serious infections that may cause death. 

  • Your doctor should test you for TB before starting tocilizumab as well as monitor you closely for signs and symptoms of TB during treatment with tocilizumab. 
You should not start taking tocilizumab if you have any kind of infection unless your doctor says it is okay. Before starting tocilizumab, tell your doctor if you think you have an infection or have symptoms of an infection such as:
  • fever, sweating, or chills
  • warm, red, or painful skin or sores
  • muscle aches on your body
  • cough
  • diarrhea or stomach pain
  • shortness of  breath
  • burning when you urinate or urinating more often than normal
  • blood in phlegm
  • weight loss
  • feel very tired

Before starting tocilizumab, tell your doctor if you:

  • are being treated for an infection
  • get a lot of infections or have infections that keep coming back
  • have diabetes, HIV, or a weak immune system. People with these conditions have a higher chance for infections.
  • have TB, or have been in close contact with someone with TB
  • live or have lived, or have traveled to certain parts of the country (such as the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys and the Southwest) where there is an increased chance for getting certain kinds of fungal infections (histoplasmosis, coccidiomycosis, or blastomycosis). These infections may happen or become more severe if you use tocilizumab. Ask your doctor, if you do not know if you have lived in an area where these infections are common.
  • have or have had hepatitis B.
After starting tocilizumab, call your doctor right away if you have any symptoms of an infection. Tocilizumab can make you more likely to get infections or make worse any infection that you have. 
Tocilizumab can cause tears (perforation) of the stomach or intestines.
  • Before taking tocilizumab, tell your doctor if you have had diverticulitis (inflammation in parts of the large intestine) or ulcers in your stomach or intestines. Some people taking tocilizumab get tears in their stomach or intestine. This happens most often in people who also take nonsteroidal anti-inflamatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, or methotrexate.
  • Tell your doctor right away if you have fever and stomach-area pain that does not go away, and a change in your bowel habits. 
Tocilizumab can cause changes in certain laboratory test results. Your doctor should do blood tests before you start receiving tocilizumab and every 4 to 8 weeks for rheumatoid arthrtis and every 2 to 4 weeks for SJIA during treatment to check for the following side effects of tocilizumab: 
  • low neutrophil count. Neutrophils are white blood cells that help the body fight off  bacterial infections.
  • low platelet count. Platelets are blood cells that help with blood clotting and stop bleeding.
  • increase in certain liver function tests.

You should not receive tocilizumab if your neutrophil or platelet counts are too low or your liver function tests are too high. Your doctor may stop your tocilizumab treatment for a period of time or change your dose of medicine if needed because of changes in these blood test results. 

You may also have changes in other laboratory tests, such as your blood cholesterol levels. Your doctor should do blood tests to check your cholesterol levels 4 to 8 weeks after you start receiving tocilizumab, and then every 6 months after that. 
Tocilizumab may increase the risk of developing certain cancers. Tell your doctor if you have any type of cancer.
Do not take tocilizumab if you are allergic to tocilizumab, or any of the ingredients in tocilizumab. 
tocilizumab has caused serious allergic reactions and anaphylaxis, which is a type of allergic reaction that occurs suddenly and may cause death. Symptoms include itchy rash, throat swelling and low blood pressure.

Tocilizumab Food Interactions

Medicines can interact with certain foods. In some cases, this may be harmful and your doctor may advise you to avoid certain foods. In the case of tocilizumab there are no specific foods that you must exclude from your diet when receiving tocilizumab.

Inform MD

Before receiving tocilizumab, tell your doctor about all of your medical conditions including if you:

  • have an infection. See "Drug Precautions".
  • have liver problems
  • have any stomach-area (abdominal) pain or been diagnosed with diverticulitis or ulcers in your 
    stomach or intestines 
  • have had a reaction to tocilizumab or any of the ingredients in tocilizumab
  • have or had a condition that affects your nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis 
  • have recently received or are scheduled to receive a vaccine. People who take tocilizumab should not receive live vaccines. 
  • plan to have surgery or a medical procedure
  • have any other medical conditions
  • are pregnant
  • are breastfeeding
Tell your healthcare provider about all of the medicines you take, including prescription and non­-prescription medicines, vitamins and herbal supplements. Tocilizumab and other medicines may affect each other causing side effects.


Tocilizumab and Pregnancy

Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.

The FDA categorizes medications based on safety for use during pregnancy. Five categories - A, B, C, D, and X, are used to classify the possible risks to an unborn baby when a medication is taken during pregnancy.

This medication falls into category C. It is not known if tocilizumab will harm your unborn baby. 

Pregnancy Registry: Genentech has a registry for pregnant women who take tocilizumab. The purpose of this registry is to check the health of the pregnant mother and her baby. If you are pregnant or become pregnant while taking tocilizumab, talk to your healthcare provider about how you can join this pregnancy registry or you may contact the registry at 1 -877-311-8972 to enroll. 

Tocilizumab and Lactation

Tell your doctor if you plan to breastfeed or are breastfeeding. It is not known if tocilizumab is excreted in human breast milk. You and your doctor should decide if you will take tocilizumab or breastfeed. You should not do both.

Tocilizumab Usage

You will receive tocilizumab from a healthcare provider through a needle placed in a vein in your arm (IV or intravenous infusion). The infusion wil take about 1 hour to give you the full dose of medicine.

  • For rheumatoid arthritis you will receive a dose of tocilizumab about every 4 weeks.
  • For SJIA you will receive a dose of tocilizumab about every 2 weeks. 
  • If you miss a scheduled dose of tocilizumab, ask your healthcare provider when to schedule your next infusion. 
  • While taking tocilizumab, you may continue to use other medicines that help treat your rheumatoid arthrtis or SJIA such as methotrexate, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and prescription steroids, as instructed by your healthcare provider. 
  • Keep alI of your follow-up appointments and get your blood tests as ordered by your healthcare provider.


Tocilizumab Dosage

Your doctor will determine your tocilizumab dose based on your weight. The recommended dose of tocilizumab is 4-8 mg/kg administered as a single 60 minute intravenous (into a vein) infusion every 4 weeks for treating RA or PJIA.

For SJIA you will receive a dose of tocilizumab about every 2 weeks.

Tocilizumab Overdose

Tocilizumab is usually administered by a healthcare provider in a medical setting making it unlikely for an overdose to occur. However, if overdose is suspected, seek emergency medical attention.

Other Requirements

It is important you keep all of your medical and laboratory appointments while receiving tocilizumab. Call your doctor for instructions if you miss an appointment for your tocilizumab injection.

Tocilizumab FDA Warning


Patients treated with tocilizumab are at increased risk for developing serious infections that may lead to hospitalization or death. Most patients who developed these infections were taking concomitant immunosuppressants such as methotrexate or corticosteroids.

If a serious infection develops, interrupt tocilizumab until the infection is controlled.

Reported infections include:

  • Active tuberculosis, which may present with pulmonary or extrapulmonary disease. Patients should be tested for latent tuberculosis before tocilizumab use and during therapy. Treatment for latent infection should be initiated prior to tocilizumab use.
  • Invasive fungal infections, including candidiasis, aspergillosis, and pneumocystis. Patients with invasive fungal infections may present with disseminated, rather than localized, disease.
  • Bacterial, viral and other infections due to opportunistic pathogens.

The risks and benefits of treatment with tocilizumab should be carefully considered prior to initiating therapy in patients with chronic or recurrent infection.

Patients should be closely monitored for the development of signs and symptoms of infection during and after treatment with tocilizumab, including the possible development of tuberculosis in patients who tested negative for latent tuberculosis infection prior to initiating therapy.