Experience with the use of low-dose methotrexate for inflammatory bowel disease

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Thiopurine drugs (azathioprine and 6-mercaptopurine) are well established in the treatment of patients with inflammatory bowel disease. However, some patients are intolerant or resistant to thiopurine drugs and their management remains a challenge. Several studies have suggested methotrexate is effective for the induction and maintenance of remission in Crohn's disease.


This study was conducted because the overall data on clinical efficacy of methotrexate in inflammatory bowel disease remain limited and there are no data regarding fistulating Crohn's disease or concomitant use of methotrexate with thiopurine drugs in inflammatory bowel disease.


This study was a retrospective review of medical notes. Clinical response was defined as sustained withdrawal of oral steroids or fistula improvement. New episodes of steroid therapy, infliximab or surgery during the first 6 months were considered as failure to achieve clinical response.


Seventy-two patients were studied (66 Crohn's disease and six ulcerative colitis). The mean dose of methotrexate used was 18.2 mg/week. Clinical response was achieved in 22 of 54 patients (40.7%) who completed 6 months of methotrexate treatment. For patients with Crohn's disease, fistula improvement was achieved in eight of 18 (44.4%) patients compared with 11 of 30 (36.7%) receiving methotrexate for steroid withdrawal. Clinical response was achieved in six of 15 patients (40%) treated with methotrexate and azathioprine at the same time compared with 16 of 39 patients (41%) treated with methotrexate alone.


Methotrexate is reasonably effective in clinical practice as a steroid sparing agent in inflammatory bowel disease. The efficacy in fistulating Crohn's disease justifies its use as an immunomodulator in these patients. Combined azathioprine and methotrexate treatment appears to offer no advantage over methotrexate alone.

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