Objective: To evaluate the tolerability and efficacy of methotrexate (MTX) treatment in patients with longstanding, progressive, active rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who had failed one or more disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARD).
Methods: Two hundred seventy-one consecutive patients with RA in whom MTX treatment was introduced were followed at regular intervals for up to 108 months. Evaluations included the number of swollen joints, grip strength, patient assessment of pain and mobility, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), and hemoglobin. Radiographs of hands and feet were taken once a year and 32 joints were evaluated according to a modified Larsen score.
Results: Of the 271 patients, 269 had prior treatment with one DMARD, primarily parenteral gold, and 58% with 2 or more DMARD. MTX was started parenterally in all patients in doses between 15 and 25 mg weekly and continued by oral medication in most of the cases. Eighty-three percent of patients complained of adverse events. The most common side effects were nausea, hair loss, transaminase increase, and stomatitis. In 45 patients (16.5%), MTX was withdrawn because of side effects, mostly during the first year. Sixteen patients (5.9%) died during followup, mainly due to myocardial infarction, heart failure, stroke, or cancer. After one year, 78.7% and after 5 years 60.3% of the patients were still taking MTX. Number of swollen joints, ESR, grip strength, patient assessment of pain, and mobility improved significantly at all measurement points. Improvement in the swollen joint count and the ESR of over 50% was seen in more than 50% of patients. Inactivation of the disease, defined as < 2 swollen joints, ESR < 20 mm, and no concomitant steroid use, occurred in 8-14% of patients. Steroid intake was significantly reduced. In spite of clinical improvement the modified Larsen score showed a progression in the vast majority of patients.
Conclusion: Even in patients with longstanding, active, destructive RA who failed one or more DMARD, MTX treatment is well tolerated and improves clinical and biochemical disease activity significantly, while radiographic progression is still present.