What Is Methotrexate? - Uses & Side Effects

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Methotrexate is a drug commonly prescribed for various types of cancers, severe psoriasis, and severe rheumatoid arthritis. Read more to find out about how methotrexate works, precautions to taking this medication, and a review of possible side effects.

What is Methotrexate?

Methotrexate is a medication used to treat severe psoriasis, severe active rheumatoid arthritis, Chrohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disease, and certain types of cancer. Uterine cancer, breast cancer, cancers of the head and neck, lymphoma, and leukemia are all types of cancer that may benefit from methotrexate treatment.

The active ingredient in methotrexate works by slowing the growth of cells (cancer cells or skin cells in the case of psoriasis) or decreasing activity in the immune system (for rheumatoid arthritis). Methotrexate is in the antineoplastics family of medications (meaning cancer medicines) and works by blocking enzymes required for cell survival.

This drug can potentially cause serious side effects and so should only be used when other treatment options have failed and in extreme cases. It can also interact with many other medications, so a thorough evaluation should be conducted by your doctor.

Treatment Types

Methotrexate is only available through prescription by a doctor, and dosage varies based on your body's needs and reaction to the drug. In some cases, a dose may be taken (orally, in tablet form or injected, in intravenous form) once every couple of days, once a week, or over the course of a few weeks followed by a break. For arthritis, improvement begins around 3-6 weeks, with maximum benefits achieved around 12 weeks.

Regular blood tests should be performed during your treatment to monitor your body's reaction to the medication and dosage. It is also recommended to get chest X-rays and liver biopsies over regular intervals to monitor the body's response to methotrexate.

Methotrexate Side Effects

Methotrexate is a serious drug and can have some side effects. Serious side effects include blurred or lost vision, seizures, confusion, weakness or difficulty moving the body, or loss of consciousness. Less severe side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, headache, swollen or sore gums, nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, red eyes, easy bruising, sensitivity to sunlight, and hair loss.

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