RA Drug May Keep Death at Bay

Methotrexate for rheumatoid arthritis may reduce the risk of death

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) If your rheumatoid arthritis is cramping your ability to do simple daily tasks, medications may help. One arthritis drug may even protect against death.

Using methotrexate (sold as Rheumatrex and Trexall) for at least one year may lower the risk of death in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, according to a recent study.

"Ask your doctor if methotrexate is right for you."

Mary Chester M. Wasko, MD, of West Penn Allegheny Health System, and colleagues studied the relationship between methotrexate use and the risk of death in a large group of rheumatoid arthritis patients.

They found that patients taking methotrexate had a 70 percent reduced risk of death compared to those not taking methotrexate.

The protective power of methotrexate kicked in only when patients took the drug for more than a year. The reduced death risk did not become stronger as patients used methotrexate for longer periods of time. That is, a patient would have about the same reduced risk of death after 2 years of methotrexate treatment as after 10 years of treatment.

The link between methotrexate use and reduced risk of death could not explain why some patients died immediately after quitting methotrexate.

These findings suggest that rheumatoid arthritis patients may be able to boost their chance of survival by taking methotrexate.

To continue getting this survival benefit, patients who did not respond to methotrexate on its own may need to add another drug on top of methotrexate instead of switching to a new drug all together.

The study included 5,626 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Over the course of the study, 666 patients (12 percent) died.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

The study was published October 8 in Arthritis & Rheumatism, American College of Rheumatology. 

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Review Date: 
October 15, 2012
Last Updated:
October 19, 2012