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What does it do?

Rituximab is used to treat some types of cancer such as lymphoma and leukaemia. It is also sometimes used for rheumatoid arthritis.

Before you start

  • Tell your doctor if you have heart, blood pressure or lung problems.
  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding. Reliable contraception should be used while being treated with rituximab, and for up to 12 months after stopping.
  • Rituximab weakens your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight infections. You may need tests before you start to make sure you don't have any infections like tuberculosis (TB), HIV, or hepatitis B and C.
  • Ask your doctor what vaccines you might need before you start and while you are taking rituximab. You should not have a live vaccine while taking rituximab.

How is it given?

Rituximab is given as an infusion into a vein.

Rituximab can cause a reaction while it is being infused. This usually happens within 30 minutes to 2 hours after starting the first infusion. You may have trouble breathing, or experience fever, chills, flushing, skin rash, itching, dizziness or headache. Tell your health professional immediately if any of these symptoms occur. This reaction is usually mild and can be controlled by giving rituximab more slowly. You will also be given medicines shortly before the infusion to help control this reaction. Once the symptoms have gone away the speed of the infusion can usually be increased again.

What if you forget a dose?

Rituximab will be given to you by a health professional. If you are unable to attend an appointment, contact your health professional as soon as possible.

Can you take other medicines?

Tell your pharmacist or doctor about all medicines or treatments that you may be taking, including vitamins, herbal products or recreational drugs.

What side effects might you notice?

Side EffectsRecommended action

Swollen lips, tongue, throat or face

Chest pain, fast or irregular heartbeat

Reduced number of blood cells that fight infections or help your blood to clot - symptoms include: fever, chills, sore throat or generally feeling unwell, or easy or unusual bruising or bleeding

Tell your doctor immediately

Loss of co-ordination, muscle weakness, forgetfulness, or vision changes

Tingling or numbness, joint, muscle or bone aches and pains

Tell your doctor

Swollen feet or legs

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain

Tell your doctor if troublesome

If you notice any other effects, discuss them with your doctor or pharmacist.

Other information:

  • Protect yourself from too much sunlight while taking immunosuppressant medicines (they may increase your risk of skin cancer). Always cover up and apply a thick layer of broad spectrum sunscreen (at least SPF30) when outside. Do not use sunbeds.
  • Women using rituximab for a long time may need cervical screening more often. Discuss with your doctor.
  • It is important to tell anyone who gives you medical or dental treatment that you are taking rituximab.

This leaflet contains important, but not all, information about this medicine.

Prepared by the MyMedicines Committee at Christchurch Hospital, Te Whatu Ora - Waitaha, New Zealand. March 2023

For more general information about this sheet and its contents, see: What does a My Medicines sheet cover?

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About My Medicines

My Medicines Patient Information Leaflets (PILs) contain important, but not all, information about the medicines they describe.

For more information about the sheets, see: What does a My Medicines sheet cover?

My Medicines is developed by a team at Te Whatu Ora – Waitaha. Our team is made up of doctors, pharmacists, and a non-medical person to help us keep to plain language. We also discuss our information with specialist health professionals or groups when needed