Background: Patients with Crohn's disease often have relapses. Better treatments are needed for the maintenance of remission. Although methotrexate is an effective short-term treatment for Crohn's disease, its role in maintaining remissions is not known.
Methods: We conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter study of patients with chronically active Crohn's disease who had entered remission after 16 to 24 weeks of treatment with 25 mg of methotrexate given intramuscularly once weekly. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either methotrexate at a dose of 15 mg intramuscularly once weekly or placebo for 40 weeks. No other treatments for Crohn's disease were permitted. We compared the efficacy of treatment by analyzing the proportion of patients who remained in remission at week 40. Remission was defined as a score of 150 or less on the Crohn's Disease Activity Index.
Results: Forty patients received methotrexate, and 36 received placebo. At week 40, 26 patients (65 percent) were in remission in the methotrexate group, as compared with 14 (39 percent) in the placebo group (P=0.04; absolute reduction in the risk of relapse, 26.1 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 4.4 percent to 47.8 percent). Fewer patients in the methotrexate group than in the placebo group required prednisone for relapse (11 of 40 [28 percent] vs. 21 of 36 [58 percent], P=0.01). None of the patients who received methotrexate had a severe adverse event; one patient in this group withdrew because of nausea.
Conclusions: In patients with Crohn's disease who enter remission after treatment with methotrexate, a low dose of methotrexate maintains remission.