Gastrointestinal tolerability of meloxicam compared to diclofenac in osteoarthritis patients. International MELISSA Study Group. Meloxicam Large-scale International Study Safety Assessment

Br J Rheumatol. 1998 Sep;37(9):937-45. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/37.9.937.


Although widely used, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are associated with a high incidence of gastrointestinal (GI) side-effects. Inhibition of the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme is the basis for both the efficacy and toxicity of NSAIDs. The discovery of two COX isoforms, constitutive COX-1 and inducible COX-2, has led to the hypothesis that selective inhibition of COX-2 will minimize the potential for GI toxicity without compromising efficacy. The Meloxicam Large-scale International Study Safety Assessment (MELISSA) trial reported here was therefore set up to investigate the tolerability of meloxicam, a preferential inhibitor of COX-2, compared to diclofenac. MELISSA was a large-scale, double-blind, randomized, international, prospective trial, conducted over 28 days in patients with symptomatic osteoarthritis. Patients received either meloxicam 7.5 mg or diclofenac 100 mg slow release, the recommended doses for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Evaluation of the profile of adverse events was the main aim of the trial, together with assessment of efficacy. A total of 9323 patients received treatment (4635 and 4688 in the meloxicam and diclofenac groups, respectively). Significantly fewer adverse events were reported by patients receiving meloxicam. This was attributable to fewer GI adverse events (13%) compared to diclofenac (19%; P < 0.001). Of the most common GI adverse events, there was significantly less dyspepsia (P < 0.001), nausea and vomiting (P < 0.05), abdominal pain (P < 0.001) and diarrhoea (P < 0.001) with meloxicam compared to diclofenac. Five patients on meloxicam experienced a perforation, ulcer or bleed vs seven on diclofenac (not significant). No endoscopically verified ulcer complication was detected in the meloxicam group compared to four with diclofenac. There were five patient days of hospitalization in patients on meloxicam compared to 121 with diclofenac. Adverse events caused withdrawal from the study in 254 patients receiving meloxicam (5.48%) compared to 373 (7.96%) on diclofenac (P < 0.001). These differences were attributable to differences in reported GI adverse events (3.02% on meloxicam vs 6.14% on diclofenac; P < 0.001). Differences in efficacy, as assessed by visual analogue scales, consistently favoured diclofenac. In all instances, 95% confidence intervals did not cross zero, suggesting a statistically significant effect. However, differences were small (4.5-9.01% difference) and did not reach pre-determined levels of clinical significance. Nevertheless, significantly more patients discontinued meloxicam because of lack of efficacy (80 out of 4635 vs 49 out of 4688; P < 0.01). The MELISSA trial confirms earlier studies suggesting that meloxicam has a significantly improved GI tolerability profile in comparison with other NSAIDs, including diclofenac. These results may in part reflect the preferential COX-2 selectivity of meloxicam, although the dose and other aspects of tolerability may be important. These results may provide support for the hypothesis that selective inhibition of COX-2 relative to COX-1 might be an effective approach towards improved NSAID therapy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Diclofenac / adverse effects*
  • Diclofenac / therapeutic use
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / classification
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Male
  • Meloxicam
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / drug therapy*
  • Patient Dropouts / statistics & numerical data
  • Peptic Ulcer / chemically induced
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thiazines / adverse effects*
  • Thiazines / therapeutic use
  • Thiazoles / adverse effects*
  • Thiazoles / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors
  • Isoenzymes
  • Thiazines
  • Thiazoles
  • Diclofenac
  • Meloxicam