WASHINGTON (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – The perioperative use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drug monotherapy or combined therapy with methotrexate and a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitor is not associated with increased rates of postoperative infectious complications or wound infections in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, according to findings from a retrospective review of more than 9,000 surgeries.

With respect to monotherapy, treatment was continued in 1,951 of 2,601 surgeries among patients receiving methotrexate, in 1,496 of 2,012 surgeries among patients receiving hydroxychloroquine, and in 508 of 652 surgeries among patient receiving leflunomide. The odds ratios for postoperative infection (including urinary tract, pneumonia, or sepsis) and postoperative wound infection, respectively, were 0.79 and 0.77 with methotrexate continuation, 0.93 and 0.86 with hydroxychloroquine continuation, and 0.78 and 0.87 with leflunomide continuation, Hsin-Hsuan Juo, MD, reported at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

With respect to combination therapy, treatment was continued in 196 of 386 surgeries among patients receiving methotrexate and TNF inhibitors, treatment with the TNF inhibitors alone was continued in 59 surgeries, and methotrexate alone was continued in 72 surgeries. The odds ratios for postoperative infection and postoperative wound infection, respectively, were 0.35 and 0.38 with continuation of both drugs, 0.15 and 0.19 with continuation of only TNF inhibitors, and 0.80 and 1.18 with continuation of methotrexate alone, said Dr. Juo of the University of Washington, Seattle.

Data for this study were derived from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs administrative database and surgical quality registry. Rheumatoid arthritis patients who underwent a surgical procedure and who were on at least one disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) or one biologic agent in the perioperative period during the study period of Oct. 1, 1999, through Sept. 30, 2009, were included. Subjects had a mean age of 67 years, and 91% were men.

The finding that the continuation of DMARD monotherapy or the combination of methotrexate and TNF inhibitor therapy for RA in the perioperative setting was not associated with increased rates of overall postoperative infectious complications and wound infections is important, because many patients are advised to stop taking these drugs prior to surgery because of concerns about increased susceptibility to infection. Discontinuing RA medication can increase the risk of disease flares requiring treatment with prednisone, which can further increase the risk of postsurgical complications, Dr. Juo said.

Clear, consistent guidance on the continuation of treatment among RA patients undergoing surgery has been lacking, she said, noting that guidelines over the years from the ACR, the British Society for Rheumatology, and the Canadian Rheumatology Association have differed in their recommendations.

A new draft guideline reported the morning of Dr. Juo’s presentation at the ACR annual meeting recommended continuing DMARDs but discontinuing biologics prior to surgery, but that guideline is limited to orthopedic surgery among patients with various rheumatic diseases.

“With literature review, the results are conflicting as well; some recommend continuing medication, and others recommend discontinuing medications prior to surgery,” she said.

The current findings, though limited by the study’s observational design and generally older, male population, suggest that continuing antirheumatic medications during the perioperative period is not associated with increased rates of postoperative complications.

“Our study results suggest that discontinuing DMARDs and biologic agents prior to surgery may not be necessary. Therefore, being on DMARDs or biologic agents should not preclude patients from receiving urgent surgeries,” Dr. Juo concluded.

Dr. Juo reported having no disclosures.