Methotrexate and liver toxicity

There are drawbacks with all of the therapies for inflammatory bowel disease; however, usually the inflammatory bowel disease is worse than any of the medications. One of the therapies that  has started to see increased usage in Crohn’s disease is methotrexate (MTX), both as an alternative to thiopurines and as an adjunct to Remicade.  There are a number of side effects; a patient handout is available at the following:

One of the concerns with MTX has been liver toxicity, in part because of descriptions in the rheumatology literature with long-term usage.  In Crohn’s disease patients, it appears that the risk is much lower (Inflamm Bowel Dis 2012; 18: 359-67).  This study found 13 trials for their meta-analysis.  A total of 632 participants were included: 373 MTX, 131 thiopurines, 128 placebo.  In the MTX group, elevated hepatic aminotransferases occurred in 1.4 per 100 person-months.  The rate of elevation more than 2-fold the upper limit of normal was 0.9 per 100 person-months.  Thus, of the initial 373 patients, 39 had an abnormal aminotransferase.  26 of these 39 had spontaneous resolution, 3 improved with dose reduction & 10 withdrew from MTX treatment (0.8 per 100 person-months).  Seven of these withdrawals were from one of the earlier studies (Feagan et al. NEJM 1995; 332: 292-97). Besides the low likelihood of needing to stop MTX due to liver toxicity, the other observation was that the liver toxicity was mostly dependent on the dose; therefore, dosage reduction would likely be effective if needed.

In my practice, when considering MTX treatment, I usually recommend the following:

  • Monitoring: Baseline: CXR, CBC, Amylase, Renal, LFTs, urine HCG & then Q2-4 weeks initially, then Q3months
  • Give Folate during therapy.
  • Use zofran if needed for nausea
  • Avoid NSAIDs during treatment due to renal toxicity
  • Contraindicated with pregnancy (MTX=teratogen) -females should see gynecology
  • Families warned in writing that this medication is given once a week; more often can be deadly

Additional references:

  • -IBD 2011; 17: 2521. ~25% remission at 1yr, 16% at 2yrs.. n=93.
  • -JPGN 2011;53: 389. n=64. Supports use of zofran for 1st few months to prevent nausea.
  • -JPGN 2010; 51: 714. Use of MTX after thiopurines. n=27. 48% in remission at 6 months.
  • -JPGN 2009; 48: 526. Use in pediatric CD, n=25. 64% response
  • -JPGN 2009; 48 suppl 2: S111. MTX may be effective for UC.
  • -NEJM 2008; 359: 2790. Similar safety of AZA and MTX in vasculitis patients. AZA may be safer.
  • -IBD 2008; 14: 756. MTX in Crohn’s. n=39. 71% remission (20% steroid-free).
  • -J Clin Pharm & Therapeutics 2007; 32: 327-31.
  • -Am J Health Syst Pharm 2004; 61: 1380-84. review of MTX errors -FDA reported
  • -Am J Gastro 2007; 102: 2804-2812. n=60 pediatric patients. ~42% in remission with MTX & ~50% improved. 13% (8) had to stop due to increased LFTs or sepsis.
  • -IBD 2006; 12: 1053. n=61. MTX for AZA nonresponders/breakthroughs: 80% with improvement/ 45% with long-term response; 10% discontinued due to side effects. Steroids stopped in 36.
  • -JPGN 2005; 40: 445. Oral MTX works as well as IM/SC.
  • -JPGN 2003; 37: 392 (194A) 0.4 mg/kg/weekly. 91% response at 2 mo, most still needed remicade
  • -Gastroenterology 2003; 124: suppl 1, A-41 (305) 11/12 responded – able to stop remicade
  • -Feagan et al. NEJM 1995; 332: 292-97.
  • -J Pediatr 1999: 134: 47. Hepatotoxic risk factors. (enzymes & obesity). Consider bx if serial enzymes increased >40% of the time over 1 year
  • -Arthritis Rheum 1997; 40: 2226.

5 thoughts on “Methotrexate and liver toxicity

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