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Am J Gastroenterol. 2009 Feb;104(2):356-62. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2008.149. Epub 2009 Jan 27.

How common is diclofenac-associated liver injury? Analysis of 17,289 arthritis patients in a long-term prospective clinical trial.

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  • 1University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90033, USA.



Few data are available from prospective trials to define the hepatotoxicity of diclofenac, the most widely prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in the world. We determined the rate of laboratory and clinical adverse hepatic effects in a large double-blind trial of diclofenac.


Patients > or = 50 years with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis were randomly assigned to diclofenac (150 mg daily) or etoricoxib (60 or 90 mg daily). Patients with hepatic disease or who reported > or = 14 alcoholic drinks weekly were excluded. Patients had visits (with liver tests) every 4 months and were contacted by phone between visits and every 6 months after discontinuation until the end of the study. Causality assessment was performed for liver-related hospitalizations, Hy's cases (serious adverse events with AST or ALT >3 x upper limit of normal (ULN) and bilirubin >2 xULN), and liver failure/transplant/death.


A total of 17,289 patients received diclofenac for a mean of 18 months. Liver end points with diclofenac were ALT/AST>3 xULN: 527(3.1%); ALT/AST >10 xULN: 86(0.5%); liver-related hospitalizations: 4(0.023%); Hy's cases: 2(0.012%); liver failure/death/transplant: 0. Aminotransferase elevations occurred primarily within the first 4-6 months of therapy, whereas liver-related hospitalizations occurred between 9 days and 21 months.


Diclofenac is commonly associated with aminotransferase elevations, generally in the first 4-6 months of therapy. Clinical liver events requiring hospitalization are relatively rare (23/100,000 patients), but may develop early or late in therapy. The markedly increased rate of aminotransferase elevation with diclofenac may not be paralleled by a proportional marked increase in clinical liver events, although clinical events potentially also may be decreased with regular monitoring in a clinical trial setting.

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