Objective: To determine whether the side effects of methotrexate can be decreased by the concurrent use of leucovorin, without affecting the efficacy of the methotrexate.
Methods: We conducted a multicenter randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of leucovorin administration, 2.5-5.0 mg orally, to be given 24 hours after the single, weekly, oral dose of methotrexate. Every 3 weeks for 52 weeks, patients were evaluated for rheumatic disease activity and side effects. Dosage adjustments for both methotrexate and leucovorin were made as needed, according to a defined protocol. The primary outcome evaluated was the frequency of study withdrawals because of side effects and/or inefficacy. Secondary outcomes evaluated included the frequency of side effects and the relative efficacy of methotrexate in the leucovorin and placebo treatment groups.
Results: Ninety-two evaluable patients were analyzed (44 took leucovorin and 48 placebo). Twenty-two patients withdrew early because of side effects unresponsive to our protocol, and 1 because of inefficacy; 17 had been taking placebo and 6 had been taking leucovorin (35% versus 14%, P < 0.02). The number of visits during which side effects were reported was reduced by almost 50% in the leucovorin treatment group (P < 0.001). There were significant reductions in the frequencies of all common side effects. At 52 weeks, disease activity was similar in both patient groups.
Conclusion: The methotrexate-leucovorin protocol used significantly reduces common side effects of methotrexate therapy without significantly altering efficacy.