Objective: A 16-wk, placebo-controlled trial has recently shown weekly low-dose methotrexate to be an effective treatment for patients with chronically active Crohn's disease. The long-term efficacy and safety of this antimetabolite drug, however, are not yet well established and are assessed in this study.
Methods: A total of 49 patients with Crohn's disease who were treated with methotrexate for > or =6 months were studied. All patients had been chronically treated with steroids; but at the time of initiation, only 27 were still on steroids. Of the 49 patients, 42 had previously taken azathioprine but were no longer on this drug because of intolerance or failure. Clinical remission was defined as a Harvey-Bradshaw index of <4.
Results: In all, 41 patients achieved complete clinical remission and were maintained on methotrexate for a median of 18 months (range, 7-59 months). In these patients the probabilities of relapse were 29%, 41%, and 48% at 1, 2, and 3 yr, respectively. A higher rate of relapse was observed in women and in patients with ileocolitis. Adverse reactions were recorded in 24 patients, requiring discontinuation of methotrexate in five. A liver biopsy was performed in 11 patients; a mild steatosis was found in five, a slight dilation of the sinusoids in one, a granulomatous hepatitis with a mild portal fibrosis in one, and a slight periportal fibrosis in one patient.
Conclusions: This study suggests a long-term benefit of maintenance treatment with methotrexate in patients with chronically active Crohn's disease, with side effects that are usually only moderate.