The clinical utility of laboratory monitoring during isotretinoin therapy for acne and changes to monitoring practices over time


      As a result of concerns about hypertriglyceridemia, liver enzyme abnormalities, and leukopenia during isotretinoin therapy for acne, patients are often monitored closely with routine laboratory assessments, although the value of this practice has been questioned.


      We conducted a cohort study of patients receiving isotretinoin for acne between January 1, 2008, and June 30, 2017, using the OptumInsights Electronic Health Record Database (Optum, Eden Prairie, MN) to evaluate the frequency of laboratory abnormalities. Poisson regression was used to evaluate for changes to the frequency of routine laboratory monitoring over time.


      Among 1863 patients treated with isotretinoin, grade 3 or greater triglyceride and liver function testing abnormalities were noted in fewer than 1% and 0.5% of patients screened, respectively. No grade 3 or greater cholesterol or complete blood count abnormalities were observed. There were no meaningful changes in the frequency of laboratory monitoring over time.


      Limitations include that we are unable to evaluate the clinical notes to understand the exact clinical decision making when clinicians encountered abnormal laboratory values.


      Although laboratory abnormalities are rare and often do not influence management, frequent laboratory monitoring remains a common practice. There are opportunities to improve the quality of care among patients being treated with isotretinoin for acne by reducing the frequency of lipid and liver function monitoring and by eliminating complete blood count monitoring.

      Key words

      Abbreviations used:

      ALT ( alanine aminotransferase), AST ( aspartate aminotransferase), CI ( confidence interval), IRR ( incidence rate ratio), WBC ( white blood cell count)
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