Methotrexate is the first line drug treatment for a number of rheumatic and non-rheumatic diseases. It is effective in controlling disease activity and preventing disease-related damage, and significantly cheaper than many alternatives. Use in rheumatoid arthritis infers a significant morbidity and mortality benefit. Methotrexate is generally well tolerated but can cause symptomatic adverse events. Multiple serious adverse events have been attributed to methotrexate, based largely on older reports using high or daily doses, and subsequent case reports and circumstantial evidence. The risk with modern dosing regimens: Lower doses, weekly schedules, and concomitant folic acid is less clear. Clarification and dissemination of the actual risk is crucial so appropriate judgements can be made for patients who may benefit from this treatment. Methotrexate has been associated with a range of liver related adverse events ranging from asymptomatic transaminase elevations to fibrosis and fatal hepatic necrosis. Concern over potential liver toxicity has resulted in treatment avoidance, cessation, or recommendations for investigations which may be costly, invasive and unwarranted. Modern laboratory monitoring of liver blood tests may also influence the risk of more serious complications. The majority of present day studies report an approximate doubling of the relative risk of elevated transaminases in methotrexate treated patients but no increased risk of symptomatic or severe liver related adverse events. In this article we will review the evidence around methotrexate and liver related adverse events.
Keywords: Cirrhosis; Fibrosis; Hepatic; Liver disease; Methotrexate; Transaminases.