Objective: To compare the efficacy of 2 low-dose oral methotrexate (MTX) schedules in maintaining remission in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: Patients with RA were included if they were receiving treatment with weekly MTX for at least 9 months and the RA was in remission (defined by American College of Rheumatology [ACR] criteria) for at least 6 months. Patients were stratified by treatment and randomly assigned to weekly or every-other-weekly (EOW; reducing their monthly dose by half) treatment with MTX. Patients were evaluated by a rheumatologist (blinded to the treatment schedule) at baseline and at 6, 12, and 24 weeks. The evaluations included joint counts, Ritchie Articular Index, Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index, physician's and patient's global health assessments, visual analog scale for pain, and incidence of adverse effects. Laboratory evaluations were done at baseline and at week 24.
Results: Fifty-one patients were included (26 taking weekly MTX, 25 taking EOW MTX). Baseline comparisons showed no differences between the groups. The mean duration of RA was <3 years in both groups, and they had been started on weekly MTX treatment early after diagnosis. After 24 weeks, >90% of the patients in both groups continued in remission. Evaluations of disease activity at 6 and 12 weeks showed no between-group differences. EOW MTX patients who experienced relapse were switched back to weekly MTX, and after a few weeks, their RA was again controlled. The incidence of adverse effects was slightly higher in the weekly MTX group, although the difference did not reach statistical significance. The observed laboratory values were very similar for both groups, except for the serum aspartate aminotransferase and alanine aminotransferase levels, which decreased in the EOW MTX group and were statistically significant at week 24 (P = 0.04 and P = 0.006, respectively).
Conclusion: EOW MTX represents a valid therapeutic alternative for a specific subgroup of RA patients, as outlined by the ACR remission criteria. Patients with a short disease duration who were treated early after disease onset with weekly MTX and who achieve sustained remission have a higher probability of success with the EOW MTX schedule.