Use of methotrexate in older patients. A risk-benefit assessment

Drugs Aging. 1996 Dec;9(6):458-71. doi: 10.2165/00002512-199609060-00008.


Methotrexate is eliminated almost entirely by the kidneys. The risk of methotrexate toxicity is therefore increased in patients with poor renal function, most likely as a result of drug accumulation. Declining renal function with age may thus be an important predictor of toxicity to methotrexate. Up to 60% of all patients who receive methotrexate for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) discontinue taking it because of adverse effects, most of which occur during the first year of therapy. Gastrointestinal complications are the most common adverse effects of methotrexate, but hepatotoxicity, haematological toxicity, pulmonary toxicity, lymphoproliferative disorders and exacerbation of rheumatic nodules have all been reported. Decreased renal function as a result of disease and/or aging appears to be an important determinant of hepatic, lymphoproli ferative and haematological toxicity. Concomitant use of low doses of folic acid has been recommended as an approach to limiting toxicity. Interactions between methotrexate and several nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have been reported, but they may not be clinically significant. However, caution is advised in the use of such combinations in patients with reduced renal function. More serious toxicities (e.g. pancytopenia) may result when other inhibitors of folate utilisation [e.g. cotrimoxazole (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole)] or inhibitors of renal tubular secretion (e.g. probenecid) are combined with methotrexate. Before starting low dose methotrexate therapy in patients with RA, a full blood count, liver function tests, renal function tests and chest radiography should be performed. Blood counts and liver function tests should be repeated at regular intervals. Therapeutic drug monitoring of methotrexate has also been suggested as a means of limiting toxicity. Patients with RA usually respond very favourably to low dose methotrexate therapy, and the probability of patients continuing their treatment beyond 5 years is greater than for other slow-acting antirheumatic drugs. Thus, given its sustained clinical utility and relatively predictable toxicity profile, low dose methotrexate is a useful addition to the therapy of RA.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Antirheumatic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug Monitoring
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Folic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Methotrexate / adverse effects*
  • Methotrexate / pharmacokinetics
  • Risk Assessment


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Folic Acid
  • Methotrexate