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The information below is based on the summary of product characteristics approved by regulatory authorities. For full details from the SmPC, please click here:

Additional related ECCO e-Learning resources can be found under IBD Curriculum Topic 6.1-6.11

Introduction and Mechanism of Action

Methotrexate is a folic acid antagonist which belongs to the class of cytotoxic agents known as antimetabolites. It acts by the competitive inhibition of the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase and thus inhibits DNA synthesis. It has not yet been clarified, as to whether the efficacy of methotrexate, in the management of psoriasis, psoriasis arthritis, chronic polyarthritis, and Crohn's disease, is due to an anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive effect and to which extent a methotrexate-induced increase in extracellular adenosine concentration at inflamed sites contributes to these effects.


International clinical guidelines reflect the use of methotrexate as a second choice for Crohn's disease patients that are intolerant or have failed to respond to first-line immunomodulating agents as azathioprine (AZA) or 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP).

The adverse events observed in the studies performed with methotrexate for Crohn's disease at cumulative doses have not shown a different safety profile of methotrexate than the profile that is already known. Therefore, similar cautions must be taken with the use of methotrexate for the treatment of Crohn's disease as in other rheumatic and non-rheumatic indications of methotrexate.

Therapeutic indications

Mild to moderate Crohn's disease either alone or in combination with corticosteroids in adult patients refractory or intolerant to thiopurines

Dosing, administration, and monitoring (Crohn's Disease)

Induction and Maintenance dosing in adult patients

• Induction treatment:

25 mg/week administered subcutaneously.

Response to treatment can be expected after approximately 8 to 12 weeks.


• Maintenance treatment:

15 mg/week administered subcutaneously

Patients with renal impairment

Methotrexate should be used with caution in patients with impaired renal function. The dose should be adjusted as follows:

Creatinine clearance (ml/min)


≥ 60

100 %


50 %

< 30

Methotrexate must not be used

Patients with hepatic impairment

Methotrexate should be administered with great caution, if at all, to patients with significant current or previous liver disease, especially if due to alcohol. If bilirubin is > 5 mg/dl (85.5 µmol/l), methotrexate is contraindicated.

Use in elderly patients

Dose reduction should be considered in elderly patients due to reduced liver and kidney function as well as lower folate reserves which occur with increased age.


  • Hypersensitivity to the active substance or to any of the excipients,
  • Severe liver impairment,
  • Alcohol abuse,
  • Severe renal impairment (creatinine clearance less than 30 ml/min.),
  • Pre-existing blood dyscrasias, such as bone marrow hypoplasia, leukopenia, thrombocytopenia, or significant anaemia,
  • Serious, acute or chronic infections such as tuberculosis, HIV or other immunodeficiency syndromes,
  • Ulcers of the oral cavity and known active gastrointestinal ulcer disease,
  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding,
  • Concurrent vaccination with live vaccines.

Adverse effects 

The most relevant undesirable effects are suppression of the haematopoietic system and gastrointestinal disorders.

The following headings are used to organise the undesirable effects in order of frequency:

Very common (≥ 1/10), common (≥ 1/100 to < 1/10), uncommon (≥ 1/1,000 to < 1/100), rare (≥ 1/10,000 to < 1/1,000), very rare (< 1/10,000), not known (cannot be estimated from the available data)

Infections and infestations

Uncommon: Pharyngitis.

Rare: Infection (incl. reactivation of inactive chronic infection), sepsis, conjunctivitis.

Neoplasms benign, malignant and unspecified (including cysts and polyps)

Very rare: Lymphoma (see “description” below).

Blood and lymphatic system disorders

Common: Leukopenia, anaemia, thrombopenia.

Uncommon: Pancytopenia.

Very rare: Agranulocytosis, severe courses of bone marrow depression, lymphoproliferative disorders (see “description” below).

Not known: Eosinophilia

Immune system disorders

Rare: Allergic reactions, anaphylactic shock, hypogammaglobulinaemia.

Metabolism and nutrition disorders

Uncommon: Precipitation of diabetes mellitus.

Psychiatric disorders

Uncommon: Depression, confusion.

Rare: Mood alterations.

Nervous system disorders

Common: Headache, tiredness, drowsiness.

Uncommon: Dizziness.

Very rare: Pain, muscular asthenia or paraesthesia in the extremities, changes in sense of taste (metallic taste), convulsions, meningism, acute aseptic meningitis, paralysis.

Not known: Encephalopathy/leukoencephalopathy.

Eye disorders

Rare: Visual disturbances.

Very rare: Impaired vision, retinopathy.

Cardiac disorders

Rare: Pericarditis, pericardial effusion, pericardial tamponade.

Vascular disorders

Rare: Hypotension, thromboembolic events.

Respiratory, thoracic and mediastinal disorders

Common: Pneumonia, interstitial alveolitis/pneumonitis often associated with eosinophilia. Symptoms indicating potentially severe lung injury (interstitial pneumonitis) are: dry, not productive cough, short of breath and fever.

Rare: Pulmonary fibrosis, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, shortness of breath and bronchial asthma, pleural effusion.

Not known: Epistaxis, pulmonary alveolar haemorrhage.

Gastrointestinal disorders

Very common: Stomatitis, dyspepsia, nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain.

Common: Oral ulcers, diarrhoea.

Uncommon: Gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeding, enteritis, vomiting, pancreatitis.

Rare: Gingivitis.

Very rare: Haematemesis, haematorrhea, toxic megacolon.

Hepatobiliary disorders (see section 4.4)

Very common: Abnormal liver function tests (increased ALAT, ASAT, alkaline phosphatase and bilirubin).

Uncommon: Cirrhosis, fibrosis and fatty degeneration of the liver, decrease in serum albumin.

Rare: Acute hepatitis.

Very rare: Hepatic failure.

Skin and subcutaneous tissue disorders

Common: Exanthema, erythema, pruritus.

Uncommon: Photosensitisation, loss of hair, increase in rheumatic nodules, skin ulcer, herpes zoster, vasculitis, herpetiform eruptions of the skin, urticaria.

Rare: Increased pigmentation, acne, petechiae, ecchymosis, allergic vasculitis.

Very rare: Stevens-Johnson syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis (Lyell's syndrome), increased pigmentary changes of the nails, acute paronychia, furunculosis, telangiectasia.

Musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders

Uncommon: Arthralgia, myalgia, osteoporosis.

Rare: Stress fracture.

Not known: Osteonecrosis of jaw (secondary to lymphoproliferative disorders).

Renal and urinary disorders

Uncommon: Inflammation and ulceration of the urinary bladder, renal impairment, disturbed micturition.

Rare: Renal failure, oliguria, anuria, electrolyte disturbances.

Not known: Proteinuria.

Reproductive system and breast disorders

Uncommon: Inflammation and ulceration of the vagina.

Very rare: Loss of libido, impotence, gynaecomastia, oligospermia, impaired menstruation, vaginal discharge.

General disorders and administration site conditions

Rare: Fever, wound-healing impairment.

Not known: Asthenia

Laboratory parameters and Monitoring

Patients must be clearly informed that the therapy has to be administered once a week, not every day.

Recommended examinations and safety measures

Before beginning or reinstituting methotrexate therapy after a rest period:

Complete blood count with differential blood count and platelets, liver enzymes, bilirubin, serum albumin, chest x-ray and renal function tests. If clinically indicated, exclude tuberculosis and hepatitis.


During therapy (at least once a month during the first six months and every three months thereafter):

An increased monitoring frequency should be considered also when the dose is increased.

1. Examination of the mouth and throat for mucosal changes

2. Complete blood count with differential blood count and platelets. Haemopoietic suppression caused by methotrexate may occur abruptly and with apparently safe doses. Any profound drop in white-cell or platelet counts indicates immediate withdrawal of the medicinal product and appropriate supportive therapy. Patients should be advised to report all signs and symptoms suggestive of infection. Patients taking haematotoxic medicinal products (e.g. leflunomide) simultaneously should be monitored closely with blood count and platelets.

3. Liver function tests: Particular attention should be given to the appearance of liver toxicity. Treatment should not be instituted or should be discontinued if any abnormality of liver function tests, or liver biopsy, is present or develops during therapy. Such abnormalities should return to normal within two weeks after which treatment may be recommenced at the discretion of the physician.

The evaluation should be performed case by case and differentiate between patients with no risk factors and patients with risk factors such as excessive prior alcohol consumption, persistent elevation of liver enzymes, history of liver disease, family history of inheritable liver disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and history of significant exposure to hepatotoxic medicinal products or chemicals and prolonged Methotrexate treatment or cumulative doses of 1.5 g or more.

Check of liver-related enzymes in serum: Temporary increases in transaminases to twice or three times of the upper limit of normal have been reported by patients at a frequency of 13-20 %. In the case of a constant increase in liver-related enzymes, a reduction of the dose or discontinuation of therapy should be taken into consideration.

Due to its potentially toxic effect on the liver, additional hepatotoxic medicinal products should not be taken during treatment with methotrexate unless clearly necessary and the consumption of alcohol should be avoided or greatly reduced. Closer monitoring of liver enzymes should be exercised in patients taking other hepatotoxic medicinal products concomitantly (e.g. leflunomide). The same should be taken into account with the simultaneous administration of haematotoxic medicinal products (e.g. leflunomide).

4. Renal function should be monitored by renal function tests and urinalysis.

As methotrexate is eliminated mainly by renal route, increased serum concentrations are to be expected in the case of renal impairment, which may result in severe undesirable effects.

Where renal function may be compromised (e.g. in the elderly), monitoring should take place more frequently. This applies in particular when medicinal products are administered concomitantly that affect the elimination of methotrexate, cause kidney damage (e.g. non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicinal products) or that can potentially lead to impairment of blood formation. Dehydration may also intensify the toxicity of methotrexate.

5. Assessment of respiratory system: Alertness for symptoms of lung function impairment and, if necessary, lung function test. Pulmonary affection requires a quick diagnosis and discontinuation of methotrexate. Pulmonary symptoms (especially a dry, non-productive cough) or a non-specific pneumonitis occurring during methotrexate therapy may be indicative of a potentially dangerous lesion and require interruption of treatment and careful investigation. Acute or chronic interstitial pneumonitis, often associated with blood eosinophilia, may occur and deaths have been reported. Although clinically variable, the typical patient with methotrexate-induced lung disease presents with fever, cough, dyspnoea, hypoxemia, and an infiltrate on chest X-ray, infection needs to be excluded. This lesion can occur at all doses.

In addition, pulmonary alveolar haemorrhage has been reported with methotrexate used in rheumatologic and related indications. This event may also be associated with vasculitis and other comorbidities. Prompt investigations should be considered when pulmonary alveolar haemorrhage is suspected to confirm the diagnosis.

6. Methotrexate may, due to its effect on the immune system, impair the response to vaccination results and affect the result of immunological tests. Particular caution is also needed in the presence of inactive, chronic infections (e.g. herpes zoster, tuberculosis, hepatitis B or C) for reasons of possible activation. Vaccination using live vaccines must not be carried out under methotrexate therapy.


Malignant lymphomas may occur in patients receiving low-dose methotrexate, in which case therapy must be discontinued. Failure of the lymphoma to show signs of spontaneous regression requires the initiation of cytotoxic therapy.

Concomitant administration of folate antagonists such as trimethoprim/sulphamethoxazole has been reported to cause an acute megaloblastic pancytopenia in rare instances.

Radiation-induced dermatitis and sun-burn can reappear under methotrexate therapy (recall-reaction). Psoriatic lesions can exacerbate during UV-irradiation and simultaneous administration of methotrexate.

Methotrexate elimination is reduced in patients with a third distribution space (ascites, pleural effusions).

Diarrhoea and ulcerative stomatitis can be toxic effects and require interruption of therapy, otherwise haemorrhagic enteritis and death from intestinal perforation may occur.

Vitamin preparations or other products containing folic acid, folinic acid or their derivatives may decrease the effectiveness of methotrexate.

Encephalopathy/leukoencephalopathy have been reported in oncologic patients receiving methotrexate therapy and cannot be excluded for methotrexate therapy in non-oncologic indications.

Interactions with other Drugs

Nitrous oxide

The use of nitrous oxide potentiates the effect of methotrexate on folate, yielding increased toxicity such as severe unpredictable myelosuppression and stomatitis. Whilst this effect can be reduced by administering calcium folinate, the concomitant use should be avoided.

Alcohol, hepatotoxic medicinal products, haematotoxic medicinal products

The probability of methotrexate exhibiting a hepatotoxic effect is increased by regular alcohol consumption and when other hepatotoxic medicinal products are taken at the same time (see section 4.4). Patients taking other hepatotoxic medicinal products concomitantly (e.g. leflunomide) should be monitored with special care. The same should be taken into account with the simultaneous administration of haematotoxic medicinal products (e.g. leflunomide, azathioprine, retinoids, sulfasalazine). The incidence of pancytopenia and hepatotoxicity can be increased when leflunomide is combined with methotrexate.

Combined treatment with methotrexate and retinoids like acitretin or etretinate increases the risk of hepatotoxicity.

Oral antibiotics

Oral antibiotics like tetracyclines, chloramphenicol, and non-absorbable broad-spectrum antibiotics can interfere with the enterohepatic circulation, by inhibition of the intestinal flora or suppression of the bacterial metabolism.


Antibiotics, like penicillines, glycopeptides, sulfonamides, ciprofloxacin and cefalotin can, in individual cases, reduce the renal clearance of methotrexate, so that increased serum concentrations of methotrexate with simultaneous haematological and gastro-intestinal toxicity may occur.

Medicinal products with high plasma protein binding

Methotrexate is plasma protein bound and may be displaced by other protein bound medicinal products such as salicylates, hypoglycaemics, diuretics, sulphonamides, diphenylhydantoins, tetracyclines, chloramphenicol and p-aminobenzoic acid, and acidic anti-inflammatory agents, which can lead to increased toxicity when used concurrently.

Probenecid, weak organic acids, pyrazoles and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents

Probenecid, weak organic acids such as loop diuretics, and pyrazoles (phenylbutazone) can reduce the elimination of methotrexate and higher serum concentrations may be assumed inducing higher haematological toxicity. There is also a possibility of increased toxicity when low-dose methotrexate and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicinal products or salicylates are combined.

Medicinal products with adverse reactions on the bone marrow

In the case of medication with medicinal products which may have adverse reactions on the bone marrow (e.g. sulphonamides, trimethoprim-sulphamethoxazole, chloramphenicol, pyrimethamine); attention should be paid to the possibility of pronounced impairment of blood formation.

Medicinal products which cause folate deficiency

The concomitant administration of products which cause folate deficiency (e.g. sulphonamides, trimethoprim-sulphamethoxazole) can lead to increased methotrexate toxicity. Particular care is therefore advisable in the presence of existing folic acid deficiency.

Products containing folic acid or folinic acid

Vitamin preparations or other products containing folic acid, folinic acid or their derivatives may decrease the effectiveness of methotrexate.

Other antirheumatic medicinal products

An increase in the toxic effects of methotrexate is, in general, not to be expected when Metoject PEN is administered simultaneously with other antirheumatic medicinal products (e.g. gold compounds, penicillamine, hydroxychloroquine, sulfasalazine, azathioprin, ciclosporin).


Although the combination of methotrexate and sulfasalazine can cause an increase in efficacy of methotrexate and as a result more undesirable effects due to the inhibition of folic acid synthesis through sulfasalazine, such undesirable effects have only been observed in rare individual cases in the course of several studies.


Methotrexate increases the plasma levels of mercaptopurine. The combination of methotrexate and mercaptopurine may therefore require dose adjustment.

Proton-pump inhibitors

Concomitant administration of proton-pump inhibitors like omeprazole or pantoprazole can lead to interactions: Concomitant administration of methotrexate and omeprazole has led to delayed renal elimination of methotrexate. In combination with pantoprazole inhibited renal elimination of the metabolite 7-hydroxymethotrexate with myalgia and shivering was reported in one case.


Methotrexate may decrease the clearance of theophylline; theophylline levels should be monitored when used concurrently with methotrexate.

Caffeine- or theophylline-containing beverages

An excessive consumption of caffeine- or theophylline-containing beverages (coffee, caffeine-containing soft drinks, black tea) should be avoided during methotrexate therapy.

Special situations

Women of childbearing potential/Contraception in females

Women must not get pregnant during methotrexate therapy, and effective contraception must be used during treatment with methotrexate and at least 6 months thereafter. Prior to initiating therapy, women of childbearing potential must be informed of the risk of malformations associated with methotrexate and any existing pregnancy must be excluded with certainty by taking appropriate measures, e.g. a pregnancy test. During treatment pregnancy tests should be repeated as clinically required (e.g. after any gap of contraception). Female patients of reproductive potential must be counselled regarding pregnancy prevention and planning.

Contraception in males

It is not known if methotrexate is present in semen. Methotrexate has been shown to be genotoxic in animal studies, such that the risk of genotoxic effects on sperm cells cannot completely be excluded. Limited clinical evidence does not indicate an increased risk of malformations or miscarriage following paternal exposure to low-dose methotrexate (less than 30 mg/week). For higher doses, there is insufficient data to estimate the risks of malformations or miscarriage following paternal exposure.

As precautionary measures, sexually active male patients or their female partners are recommended to use reliable contraception during treatment of the male patient and for at least 6 months after cessation of methotrexate. Men should not donate semen during therapy or for 6 months following discontinuation of methotrexate.


Methotrexate is contraindicated during pregnancy in non-oncological indications. If pregnancy occurs during treatment with methotrexate and up to six months thereafter, medical advice should be given regarding the risk of harmful effects on the child associated with treatment and ultrasonography examinations should be performed to confirm normal foetal development.

In animal studies, methotrexate has shown reproductive toxicity, especially during the first trimester. Methotrexate has been shown to be teratogenic to humans; it has been reported to cause foetal death, miscarriages and/or congenital abnormalities (e.g. craniofacial, cardiovascular, central nervous system and extremity-related).

Methotrexate is a powerful human teratogen, with an increased risk of spontaneous abortions, intrauterine growth restriction and congenital malformations in case of exposure during pregnancy.

• Spontaneous abortions have been reported in 42.5% of pregnant women exposed to low-dose methotrexate treatment (less than 30 mg/week), compared to a reported rate of 22.5% in disease-matched patients treated with drugs other than methotrexate.

• Major birth defects occurred in 6.6% of live births in women exposed to low-dose methotrexate treatment (less than 30 mg/week) during pregnancy, compared to approximately 4% of live births in disease-matched patients treated with drugs other than methotrexate.

Insufficient data is available for methotrexate exposure during pregnancy higher than 30 mg/week, but higher rates of spontaneous abortions and congenital malformations are expected.

When methotrexate was discontinued prior to conception, normal pregnancies have been reported.


Methotrexate is excreted in human milk. Because of the potential for serious adverse reactions in breast-fed infants, Methotrexate is contraindicated during breast-feeding. Therefore, breast-feeding must be discontinued prior and during administration.


Methotrexate affects spermatogenesis and oogenesis and may decrease fertility. In humans, methotrexate has been reported to cause oligospermia, menstrual dysfunction and amenorrhoea. These effects appear to be reversible after discontinuation of therapy in most cases.