“Isotretinoin is a very effective treatment for severe acne,” Varsha Parthasarathy said at the annual meeting of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology. “However, initiating this medication requires a complex process of laboratory testing,” which includes human chorionic gonadotropin pregnancy testing, because isotretinoin is a teratogen, as well as lipid labs and liver function tests, she noted. “Importantly, triglycerides are measured due to an association in adults between isotretinoin and hypertriglyceridemia-associated pancreatitis. However, these findings in children are limited to case reports, as are findings of retinoid-induced hepatotoxicity.”
To identify the role of isotretinoin on changes in lipids, aspartate aminotransferase (AST), and alanine aminotransferase (ALT), and to determine the impact on treatment course, Ms. Parthasarathy, a 4-year medical student at George Washington University, Washington, and colleagues retrospectively reviewed the charts of 130 patients aged 12-21 years who were cared for at Children’s National Hospital between January 2012 and October 2020. Nearly two-thirds (65%) were male, their average age was 16 years, and the mean time to obtain follow-up labs after starting isotretinoin was 3.25 months.
Between baseline and follow-up, the researchers observed increases in total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL (P less than .001 for all associations) and a decrease in HDL (P = .001), but there were no significant changes in AST or ALT levels. These findings were consistent with prior studies in adults examining the utility of these laboratory tests, most notably aby Timothy J. Hansen, MD, and colleagues
Among the 13 patients with elevated triglycerides at baseline, 9 (69%) were overweight or obese. Of the 20 patients with elevated triglycerides at follow-up, 11 patients (55%) were obese. At follow-up, 11 patients had levels of 200-500 mg/dL (grade I elevation), and 2 patients had levels of 501-1,000 mg/dL (grade II elevation). Isotretinoin was stopped in the latter two patients, who also had obesity as a risk factor for their hypertriglyceridemia.
“None of these patients had clinical sequelae from their hypertriglyceridemia, such as pancreatitis at baseline or follow-up,” Ms. Parthasarathy said. “However, since pancreatitis would be expected to be exceedingly rare, the sample size may be limited in identifying this adverse effect.”
She noted that while isotretinoin might cause a significant increase in lipid levels, the mean levels remained within normal limits at both baseline and follow-up. “Of the patients with elevated triglycerides at baseline and follow-up, obesity may have been a potential risk factor,” she said. “This could suggest a possible strategy for reduced testing in nonobese isotretinoin patients, which can be further explored in larger study populations.”
In addition, “there was a lack of significant change in AST and ALT in this study and adult studies, as well as minimal evidence for pediatric retinoid-induced hepatotoxicity, which raises the question of the necessity of baseline and follow-up comprehensive metabolic panel testing,” Ms. Parthasarathy added. “Clinicians must weigh the laboratory values with the costs of laboratory testing, including opportunity costs such as time, monetary costs, and the discomfort of testing for pediatric patients.”
The study’s senior author was, chief of dermatology at Children’s National Hospital, Washington. The researchers reported having no relevant financial disclosures.