Extra care is needed because methotrexate is a high-alert medicine.
High-alert medicines have been proven to be safe and effective. But these medicines can cause serious injury if a mistake happens while taking them. This means that it is very important for you to know about this medicine and take it exactly as directed.
Top 10 List of Safety Tips for Methotrexate
|When receiving a prescription|
|1.||Look for the reason. Ask your doctor to put the reason for your medicine on all prescriptions. You might take a medicine like methotrexate daily for a week at a time if you have cancer, but just once or twice a week if you have arthritis or psoriasis (or certain other conditions). If the pharmacist knows your condition, he or she will make sure the directions for taking your medicine are correct.|
|2.||Ask for special packaging. Ask your doctor if the medicine comes in a special package designed for weekly use. For example, Rheumatrex, one brand of methotrexate, comes in a weekly dose pack. Never leave the doctor’s office unless you clearly understand how to take your medicine.|
|3.||Disclose all medicines. Tell your doctor about all prescription, nonprescription, and herbal products you take, particularly ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), aspirin, echinacea, and vitamins.|
|4.||Avoid during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Methotrexate may cause birth defects or death of the unborn fetus if taken during pregnancy. Avoid pregnancy for at least 3 months following treatment with methotrexate. Do not take this medicine while breastfeeding, as it may reduce your infant's ability to fight infections.|
|When dropping off a prescription|
|5.||Pick a day(s). Pick the day(s) of the week that you’ll be taking your medicine, and ask your pharmacist to include that in the instructions.|
|When picking up your prescription|
|6.||Ask for education. Ask the pharmacist to go over the directions for taking the medicine. Be sure it agrees with what the doctor told you.|
|7.||Take weekly, not daily. Never take the medicine daily for more than 1 consecutive week.|
|When taking your medicine|
|8.||Never take extra doses. Do not take extra doses for symptom relief. Relief of symptoms is gradual and begins in 3 to 6 weeks after starting the medicine. Continued improvement occurs during the first 12 weeks of taking the medicine.|
|9.||Avoid direct sunlight. Methotrexate causes an abnormal skin reaction if you are exposed to sunlight. You could develop severe redness, pain, and peeling of the skin. If you are in the sun, use sunscreen on your skin and wear eye protection and a hat.|
|10.||Report side effects. Let your doctor know about any side effects you experience, particularly a rash, fever, chills, trouble breathing, cough, racing heartbeat, bleeding, and changes in how often you urinate.|
Methotrexate is a cancer medicine. However, it is also used to treat other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. It works well for these conditions if you take the medicine just once or twice a week, and in smaller doses. But if you take the medicine every day by accident, you could be harmed. Sadly, some people have even died.
In several instances, this happened because people misread the directions on the prescription bottle.
In one case, a man with arthritis mistakenly took one tablet each morning, but the directions said to take one tablet each Monday. In another case, the prescription label said to take the medicine every 12 hours for just three doses. But a woman took the medicine every 12 hours for 6 days in a row. Another man took many extra doses to help relieve arthritis pain—something that should never be done.
Harmful mistakes may happen because you, your doctor, and your pharmacist are more familiar with medicines that are taken daily. Serious harm, even death, could occur if you take methotrexate daily for conditions other than cancer.
See the Top 10 List of Safety Tips to help you avoid mistakes when taking methotrexate less often than daily.
|Common brand names||
|Safe dose limits||
|Special instructions and precautions||
|Safety during pregnancy/breastfeeding||
|This medicine should not be taken if you have:||
|Also tell your doctor if you have:||
|Storage and disposal||
|Side effects to report to your doctor immediately (usually seen when taking high doses)||
|Nonprescription medicines/herbals/vitamins to avoid when taking methotrexate||
|Prescription medicines that should not be taken with methotrexate||
|Special tests your doctor may prescribe||
This information does not replace the need to follow your doctor's instructions and read the drug information leaflet provided with your prescription.
This project was supported by grant number R18HS017910 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not represent the official views of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.