Methotrexate for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Methotrexate for rheumatoid arthritis is known to be a helpful treatment for the disease. There are thousands of people around the world, particularly those that has reached the age or 30 and beyond, who is experiencing rheumatoid arthritis – a kind of body illness that is felt on the joints of the body. Considered an autoimmune disease, its causes remain unknown. Normally, the body fights against foreign substances that enter the body such as virus, but with an autoimmune disease, the healthy tissues are confused with foreign substances, thus the immune system attacks these tissues. That is why individuals with rheumatoid arthritis feel pain on particular joints on their bodies. When other treatments have no effects, methotrexate for rheumatoid arthritis is prescribed by doctors.

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Methotrexate was initially created for the treatment of leukemia in 1940. Its first attempt for use against rheumatoid arthritis was noted in the year 1951. The following years, research was directed in order to know the safety and effectiveness of the medicine in treating rheumatoid arthritis. In the 1970s the drug was regarded as experimental then approved by the FDA.

Patients who have undergone other therapies such as NSAIDs or DMARDs without results are prescribed with methotrexate. As the years passed, the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis became more aggressive. Methotrexate rheumatoid arthritis has become a high standard for treating patients who suffer from medium to severe pain, swelling, fatigue and stiffness.

Why is Methotrexate prescribed?

Other than leukemia, this is also used to treat skin diseases like psoriasis that appears scaly and reddish patches throughout the entire body, if the condition does not respond to other treatments. Coupled with rest and other medications, methotrexate, is applied in rheumatoid arthritis treatment. This kind of medication belongs to the class known as antimetabolites. In cancer cases, it slows the increase of cancer cells. With psoriasis of the skin, it decelerates the production of the skin cells in order to stop the scale formation. And with rheumatoid arthritis, it decreases the immune system activity, to stop the attack on the joints.

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Treatment procedure

The medicine is taken orally in the form of a tablet. It should be taken once a week, as a single dose or more frequent doses divided within a 24-hour period.  Methotrexate treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is usually coupled with other treatment methods and not as a substitute for them.

In order to avoid the chance of gastrointestinal pains which interfere with the work week of the patient, treatment is typically done on Saturdays. The medicine can also be injected directly through the muscle, which entirely avoids gastrointestinal pains. There are certain studies where methotrexate is used together with a different drug such as the Cytoxan, Imuran or Enbrel.  These combinations have shown to be more beneficial than using methotrexate rheumatoid arthritis medicine alone. Studies also showed that if the medicine is given earlier, then the results are better.

How does Methotrexate work?

Methotrexate is a drug belonging to the class of antimetabolites.  In rheumatoid arthritis it decreases the activity of the immune system thus reducing joint pains. Being a cytotoxic drug it also lessens the growth of cells located on the synovial membrane which lines joints.

The medicine is also considered as a potent drug so there are some patients who fear of its toxic content and also doubt its safety. Although based on history for the last several years, there have been no records of ill effects of the drug.  This could be attributed to the fact that the drug used for treating rheumatoid arthritis is in very low doses, about a hundredth of that used for cancer therapy.

The medicine is intended for long-term treatment. Changes or improvements in the body occurs within the first two months of intake and then steadily improves in the succeeding months and years. If the medicine is stopped, the pain comes back and increase in immune system activity resumes.


There are certain patients claiming side effects from the medication. One of the common side effects is nausea. In order to control nausea, the level of dosage should be lowered. Nausea vanishes on its own. There are other side effects that can be a little alarming.  Studies are being conducted in order to determine if methotrexate is the one causing these or not. CBC or complete blood counts at laboratories are conducted and results showed that the developments of new blood cells are being suppressed – an alarming sign that may lead to severe cases of anemia. Other side effects include lung disease and liver damage.

Women should be wary and avoid taking methotrexate rheumatoid arthritis when they are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Men are prohibited as well when engaging to become a father as it may result to sterility and also cause birth defects.

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