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Severe liver injury, including fatal liver failure, has been reported in some patients treated with ARAVA. Patients with pre-existing acute or chronic liver disease, or those with serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) > 2xULN before initiating treatment, should not be treated with ARAVA. Use caution when ARAVA is given with other potentially hepatotoxic drugs. Monitoring of ALT levels is recommended at least monthly for six months after starting ARAVA, and thereafter every 6-8 weeks. If ALT elevation > 3 fold ULN occurs, interrupt ARAVA therapy while investigating the probable cause of the ALT elevation by close observation and additional tests. If likely leflunomide-induced, start cholestyramine washout and monitor liver tests weekly until normalized (see PRECAUTIONS - General - Need for Drug Elimination). If leflunomide-induced liver injury is unlikely because some other probable cause has been found, resumption of ARAVA therapy may be considered.

In addition, if ARAVA and methotrexate are given concomitantly, ACR guidelines for monitoring methotrexate liver toxicity must be followed with ALT, AST, and serum albumin testing monthly.

In clinical trials, ARAVA treatment as monotherapy or in combination with methotrexate was associated with elevations of liver enzymes, primarily ALT and AST, in a significant number of patients; these effects were generally reversible. Most transaminase elevations were mild ( ≤ 2fold ULN) and usually resolved while continuing treatment. Marked elevations ( > 3-fold ULN) occurred infrequently and reversed with dose reduction or discontinuation of treatment. Table 8 shows liver enzyme elevations seen with monthly monitoring in clinical trials US301 and MN301. It was notable that the absence of folate use in MN302 was associated with a considerably greater incidence of liver enzyme elevation on methotrexate.

Table 8: Liver Enzyme Elevations > 3-fold Upper Limits of Normal (ULN)

  US301 MN301 MN302*
> 3-fold ULN 8 3 5 2 1 2 13 83
(n %) (4.4) (2.5) (2.7) (1.5) (1.1) (1.5) (2.6) (16.7)
Reversed to ≤ 2-fold ULN: 8 3 5 2 1 2 12 82
Timing of Elevation
  0-3 Months 6 1 1 2 1 2 7 27
  4-6 Months 1 1 3 - - - 1 34
  7-9 Months 1 1 1 - - - - 16
  10-12 Months - - - - - - 5 6
*Only 10% of patients in MN302 received folate. All patients in US301 received folate.

In a 6 month study of 263 patients with persistent active rheumatoid arthritis despite methotrexate therapy, and with normal LFTs, leflunomide was added to a group of 130 patients starting at 10 mg per day and increased to 20 mg as needed. An increase in ALT greater than or equal to three times the ULN was observed in 3.8% of patients compared to 0.8% in 133 patients continued on methotrexate with placebo added.

Immunosuppression Potential/Bone Marrow Suppression

ARAVA is not recommended for patients with severe immunodeficiency, bone marrow dysplasia, or severe, uncontrolled infections. In the event that a serious infection occurs, it may be necessary to interrupt therapy with ARAVA and administer cholestyramine or charcoal (see PRECAUTIONSGeneralNeed for Drug Elimination). Medications like leflunomide that have immunosuppression potential may cause patients to be more susceptible to infections, including opportunistic infections, especially Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia, tuberculosis (including extra-pulmonary tuberculosis), and aspergillosis. Severe infections including sepsis, which may be fatal, have been reported in patients receiving ARAVA, especially Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia and aspergillosis. Most of the reports were confounded by concomitant immunosuppressant therapy and/or comorbid illness which, in addition to rheumatoid disease, may predispose patients to infection.

There have been rare reports of pancytopenia, agranulocytosis and thrombocytopenia in patients receiving ARAVA alone. These events have been reported most frequently in patients who received concomitant treatment with methotrexate or other immunosuppressive agents, or who had recently discontinued these therapies; in some cases, patients had a prior history of a significant hematologic abnormality.

Patients taking ARAVA should have platelet, white blood cell count and hemoglobin or hematocrit monitored at baseline and monthly for six months following initiation of therapy and every 6- to 8 weeks thereafter. If used with concomitant methotrexate and/or other potential immunosuppressive agents, chronic monitoring should be monthly. If evidence of bone marrow suppression occurs in a patient taking ARAVA, treatment with ARAVA should be stopped, and cholestyramine or charcoal should be used to reduce the plasma concentration of leflunomide active metabolite (see PRECAUTIONSGeneralNeed for Drug Elimination).

In any situation in which the decision is made to switch from ARAVA to another anti-rheumatic agent with a known potential for hematologic suppression, it would be prudent to monitor for hematologic toxicity, because there will be overlap of systemic exposure to both compounds. ARAVA washout with cholestyramine or charcoal may decrease this risk, but also may induce disease worsening if the patient had been responding to ARAVA treatment.

Skin Reactions

Rare cases of Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis have been reported in patients receiving ARAVA. If a patient taking ARAVA develops any of these conditions, ARAVA therapy should be stopped, and a drug elimination procedure is recommended. (See PRECAUTIONS - General - Need for Drug Elimination.)


The risk of malignancy, particularly lymphoproliferative disorders, is increased with the use of some immunosuppression medications. There is a potential for immunosuppression with ARAVA. No apparent increase in the incidence of malignancies and lymphoproliferative disorders was reported in the clinical trials of ARAVA, but larger and longer-term studies would be needed to determine whether there is an increased risk of malignancy or lymphoproliferative disorders with ARAVA.

Use in Women of Childbearing Potential

There are no adequate and well-controlled studies evaluating ARAVA in pregnant women. However, based on animal studies, leflunomide may increase the risk of fetal death or teratogenic effects when administered to a pregnant woman (see CONTRAINDICATIONS). Women of childbearing potential must not be started on ARAVA until pregnancy is excluded and it has been confirmed that they are using reliable contraception. Before starting treatment with ARAVA, patients must be fully counseled on the potential for serious risk to the fetus.

The patient must be advised that if there is any delay in onset of menses or any other reason to suspect pregnancy, they must notify the physician immediately for pregnancy testing and, if positive, the physician and patient must discuss the risk to the pregnancy. It is possible that rapidly lowering the blood level of the active metabolite by instituting the drug elimination procedure described below at the first delay of menses may decrease the risk to the fetus from ARAVA.

Upon discontinuing ARAVA, it is recommended that all women of childbearing potential undergo the drug elimination procedure described below. Women receiving ARAVA treatment who wish to become pregnant must discontinue ARAVA and undergo the drug elimination procedure described below which includes verification of M1 metabolite plasma levels less than 0.02 mg/L (0.02 μg/mL). Human plasma levels of the active metabolite (M1) less than 0.02 mg/L (0.02 μg/mL) are expected to have minimal risk based on available animal data.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Cases of peripheral neuropathy have been reported in patients receiving ARAVA. Most patients recovered after discontinuation of ARAVA, but some patients had persistent symptoms. Age older than 60 years, concomitant neurotoxic medications, and diabetes may increase the risk for peripheral neuropathy. If a patient taking ARAVA develops a peripheral neuropathy, consider discontinuing ARAVA therapy and performing the drug elimination procedure. (See WARNINGSDrug Elimination Procedure.).

Drug Elimination Procedure

The following drug elimination procedure is recommended to achieve non-detectable plasma levels (less than 0.02 mg/L or 0.02 μg/mL) after stopping treatment with ARAVA:

  1. Administer cholestyramine 8 grams 3 times daily for 11 days. (The 11 days do not need to be consecutive unless there is a need to lower the plasma level rapidly.)
  2. Verify plasma levels less than 0.02 mg/L (0.02 μg/mL) by two separate tests at least 14 days apart. If plasma levels are higher than 0.02 mg/L, additional cholestyramine treatment should be considered.

Without the drug elimination procedure, it may take up to 2 years to reach plasma M1 metabolite levels less than 0.02 mg/L due to individual variation in drug clearance.



Need for Drug Elimination

The active metabolite of leflunomide is eliminated slowly from the plasma. In instances of any serious toxicity from ARAVA, including hypersensitivity, use of a drug elimination procedure as described in this section is highly recommended to reduce the drug concentration more rapidly after stopping ARAVA therapy. If hypersensitivity is the suspected clinical mechanism, more prolonged cholestyramine or charcoal administration may be necessary to achieve rapid and sufficient clearance. The duration may be modified based on the clinical status of the patient.

Cholestyramine given orally at a dose of 8 g three times a day for 24 hours to three healthy volunteers decreased plasma levels of M1 by approximately 40% in 24 hours and by 49 to 65% in 48 hours.

Administration of activated charcoal (powder made into a suspension) orally or via nasogastric tube (50 g every 6 hours for 24 hours) has been shown to reduce plasma concentrations of the active metabolite, M1, by 37% in 24 hours and by 48% in 48 hours.

These drug elimination procedures may be repeated if clinically necessary.


Interstitial lung disease has been reported during treatment with leflunomide and has been associated with fatal outcomes (see ADVERSE REACTIONS). The risk of its occurrence is increased in patients with a history of interstitial lung disease. Interstitial lung disease is a potentially fatal disorder, which may occur acutely at any time during therapy and has a variable clinical presentation. New onset or worsening pulmonary symptoms, such as cough and dyspnea, with or without associated fever, may be a reason for discontinuation of the therapy and for further investigation as appropriate. If discontinuation of the drug is necessary, initiation of wash-out procedures should be considered. (See WARNINGSDrug Elimination Procedure.)

Tuberculosis Reactivation

Prior to initiating immunomodulatory therapies, including Arava, patients should be screened for latent tuberculosis infection with a tuberculin skin test. Arava has not been studied in patients with a positive tuberculosis screen, and the safety of Arava in individuals with latent tuberculosis infection is unknown. Patients testing positive in tuberculosis screening should be treated by standard medical practice prior to therapy with Arava.

Renal Insufficiency

Single dose studies in dialysis patients show a doubling of the free fraction of M1 in plasma. There is no clinical experience in the use of ARAVA in patients with renal impairment. Caution should be used when administering this drug in this population.


No clinical data are available on the efficacy and safety of vaccinations during ARAVA treatment. Vaccination with live vaccines is, however, not recommended. The long half-life of ARAVA should be considered when contemplating administration of a live vaccine after stopping ARAVA.

Blood Pressure Monitoring

Blood pressure should be checked before start of leflunomide treatment and periodically thereafter.

Laboratory Tests

Hematologic Monitoring

At minimum, patients taking ARAVA should have platelet, white blood cell count and hemoglobin or hematocrit monitored at baseline and monthly for six months following initiation of therapy and every 6 to 8 weeks thereafter.

Bone Marrow Suppression Monitoring

If used concomitantly with immunosuppressants such as methotrexate, chronic monitoring should be monthly. (See WARNINGS - Immunosuppression Potential/Bone Marrow Suppression.)

Liver Enzyme Monitoring

At minimum, ALT (SGPT) must be performed at baseline and at least monthly for six months after starting ARAVA, and thereafter every 6-8 weeks. In addition, if ARAVA and methotrexate are given concomitantly, ACR guidelines for monitoring methotrexate liver toxicity must be followed with ALT, AST, and serum albumin testing every month. (See WARNINGSHepatotoxicity.)

Due to a specific effect on the brush border of the renal proximal tubule, ARAVA has a uricosuric effect. A separate effect of hypophosphaturia is seen in some patients. These effects have not been seen together, nor have there been alterations in renal function.

Carcinogenesis, Mutagenesis, and Impairment of Fertility

No evidence of carcinogenicity was observed in a 2-year bioassay in rats at oral doses of leflunomide up to the maximally tolerated dose of 6 mg/kg (approximately 1/40 the maximum human M1 systemic exposure based on AUC). However, male mice in a 2-year bioassay exhibited an increased incidence in lymphoma at an oral dose of 15 mg/kg, the highest dose studied (1.7 times the human M1 exposure based on AUC). Female mice, in the same study, exhibited a dose-related increased incidence of bronchoalveolar adenomas and carcinomas combined beginning at 1.5 mg/kg (approximately 1/10 the human M1 exposure based on AUC).

The significance of the findings in mice relative to the clinical use of ARAVA is not known. Leflunomide was not mutagenic in the Ames Assay, the Unscheduled DNA Synthesis Assay, or in the HGPRT Gene Mutation Assay. In addition, leflunomide was not clastogenic in the in vivo Mouse Micronucleus Assay nor in the in vivo Cytogenetic Test in Chinese Hamster Bone Marrow Cells. However, 4-trifluoromethylaniline (TFMA), a minor metabolite of leflunomide, was mutagenic in the Ames Assay and in the HGPRT Gene Mutation Assay, and was clastogenic in the in vitro Assay for Chromosome Aberrations in the Chinese Hamster Cells. TFMA was not clastogenic in the in vivo Mouse Micronucleus Assay nor in the in vivo Cytogenetic Test in Chinese Hamster Bone Marrow Cells. Leflunomide had no effect on fertility in either male or female rats at oral doses up to 4.0 mg/kg (approximately 1/30 the human M1 exposure based on AUC).


Pregnancy Category X (see CONTRAINDICATIONS section).

Pregnancy Registry: To monitor fetal outcomes of pregnant women exposed to leflunomide, health care providers are encouraged to register such patients by calling 1-877-311-8972.

Nursing Mothers

ARAVA should not be used by nursing mothers. It is not known whether ARAVA is excreted in human milk. Many drugs are excreted in human milk, and there is a potential for serious adverse reactions in nursing infants from ARAVA. Therefore, a decision should be made whether to proceed with nursing or to initiate treatment with ARAVA, taking into account the importance of the drug to the mother.

Use in Males

Available information does not suggest that ARAVA would be associated with an increased risk of male-mediated fetal toxicity. However, animal studies to evaluate this specific risk have not been conducted. To minimize any possible risk, men wishing to father a child should consider discontinuing use of ARAVA and taking cholestyramine 8 grams 3 times daily for 11 days.

Pediatric Use

The safety and effectiveness of ARAVA in pediatric patients with polyarticular course juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) have not been fully evaluated. (See Clinical Studies and ADVERSE REACTIONS.)

Geriatric Use

Of the total number of subjects in controlled clinical (Phase III) studies of ARAVA, 234 subjects were 65 years and over. No overall differences in safety or effectiveness were observed between these subjects and younger subjects, and other reported clinical experience has not identified differences in responses between the elderly and younger patients, but greater sensitivity of some older individuals cannot be ruled out. No dosage adjustment is needed in patients over 65.

Last reviewed on RxList: 11/30/2012
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.


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