Does methotrexate reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in patients with rheumatoid arthritis?

The weight of the evidence suggests that methotrexate reduces the overall risk of cardiovascular events (CVEs)—including myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, stroke, and or major adverse cardiac events—in RA patients (RR 0.72, 95% CI 0.57-0.91)1.

Aside from its effect on controlling systemic inflammation, methotrexate has also been shown to increase HDL and reduce total cholesterol/HDL ratio in patients with RA compared with treated non-RA controls2. In vitro, methotrexate appears to activate mechanisms involved in reverse transport of cholesterol out of the cell to the circulation for eventual excretion3. Not surprisingly then, methotrexate has also been reported to decrease atherosclerotic plaque burden measured by carotid artery intima-media thickness2.

We tend to think of RA as a disease that primarily causes arthritis but its effects may extend far beyond the joints. Patients with RA have an increased risk of cardiovascular deaths compared to the general population4, likely due to a variety of factors, including accelerated atherosclerosis secondary to chronic inflammation. At baseline, RA patients also have an unfavorable lipid profile with decreased HDL and higher total cholesterol/HDL ratio.

Fun Final Fact: Did you know that methotrexate is on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (April 2015) not only as a cancer drug but for treatment of RA as well5?


  1. Roubille C, Richer V, Starnino T, McCourt C, McFarlane A, Fleming P, Siu S, Kraft J, Lynde C, Pope J, Gulliver W, Keeling S, Dutz J, Bessette L, Bissonnette R, Haraoui B. The effects of tumour necrosis factor inhibitors, methotrexate, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids on cardiovascular events in rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Rheum Dis. 2015;74:480-9.
  2. Georgiadis AN, Voulgari PV, Argyropoulou MI, Alamanos Y, Elisaf M, Tselepis AD, Drosos AA. Early treatment reduces the cardiovascular risk factors in newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis patients. Semin Arthritis Rheum 2008;38:13-9.
  3. Reiss AB, Carsons SE, Anwar K, Rao S, Edelman SD, Zhang H, Fernandez P, Cronstein BN, Chan ES. Atheroprotective effects of methotrexate on reverse cholesterol transport proteins and foam cell transformation in human THP-1 monocyte/macrophages. Arthritis Rheum 2008;58:3675-83.
  4. Aviña-Zubieta JA, Choi HK, Sadatsafavi M, Etminan M, Esdaile JM, Lacaille D. Risk of cardiovascular mortality in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Arthritis Rheum 2008; 59:1690-7.
  5. WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (April 2015).


Contributed by Brian Li, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

Does methotrexate reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in patients with rheumatoid arthritis?

What is the connection between cirrhosis and adrenal insufficiency (AI)?

The prevalence of AI in patients with liver disease varies widely (30-60%). However, there is no consensus on how to define AI in such patients, nor is the methodology for its evaluation standardized. 

A common criticism is the frequent reliance on total, not free, serum cortisol in cirrhosis which may overestimate the prevalence of AI because cortisol is bound to corticosteroid binding globulin and albumin, commonly found at lower concentrations in cirrhosis. However, even when based on measuring free cortisol, AI is found in 12%-29% of clinically stable cirrhotic patients. 1

 Secondary AI due to hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction has also been reported in Child-Pugh class A, B, and C patients (42%, 69%, and 80%, respectively). 2

The mechanism of AI in cirrhosis is unclear, but low serum cholesterol in cirrhosis leading to lack of substrate for steroidogenesis, and increased levels of circulating endotoxin and pro-inflammatory cytokines impairing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis have been postulated. 1

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  1. Fede G, Spadaro L, Purrello F. Review: adrenal insufficiency in liver disease. J Liver 2014;3:1.
  2. Zietz, B, Lock, G, Plach, B, et al. Dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-glandular axes and relation to Child-Pugh classification in male patients with alcoholic and virus-related cirrhosis. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatology 2003;15:495-501.
What is the connection between cirrhosis and adrenal insufficiency (AI)?