Long-term opioid treatment and endocrine measures in chronic non-cancer pain patients

Pernille D K Diasso*, Dalia Abou-Kassem, Susanne D Nielsen, Katharina M Main, Per Sjøgren, Geana P Kurita

*Corresponding author for this work


BACKGROUND: The prevalence of chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP) has increased dramatically the past decades, which combined with indiscriminate use of prescribed opioids has become a public health problem. Endocrine dysfunction may be a complication of long-term opioid treatment (L-TOT), but the evidence is limited. This study aimed at investigating the associations between L-TOT and endocrine measures in CNCP patients.

METHODS: Cortisol (spot and after stimulation), thyrotropin (TSH), thyroxin (T4), insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), prolactin (PRL), 17-hydroxyprogesterone, androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS), sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), total testosterone (TT) and free testosterone (fT) were measured. Group comparisons were done between CNCP patients in L-TOT and controls as well as between patients on high- or low-dose morphine equivalents.

RESULTS: Eighty-two CNCP patients (38 in L-TOT and 44 controls not receiving opioids) were included. Low TT (p = 0.004) and fT concentrations (p < 0.001), high SHBG (p = 0.042), low DEAS (p = 0.017) and low IGF-1 (p = 0.003) in men were found when comparing those in L-TOT to controls and high PRL (p = 0.018), low IGF-1 standard deviation score (SDS) (p = 0.006) along with a lesser, but normal cortisol response to stimulation (p = 0.016; p = 0.012) were found when comparing L-TOT to controls. Finally, a correlation between low IGF-1 levels and high opioid dose was observed (p < 0.001).

CONCLUSIONS: Our study not only supports previous findings but even more interestingly disclosed new associations. We recommend future studies to investigate endocrine effects of opioids in larger, longitudinal studies. In the meanwhile, we recommend monitoring endocrine function in CNCP patients when prescribing L-TOT.

SIGNIFICANCE: This clinical study found associations between L-TOT, androgens, growth hormone and prolactin in patients with CNCP compared to controls. The results support previous studies as well as add new knowledge to the field, including an association between high opioid dose and low growth hormone levels. Compared to existing research this study has strict inclusion/exclusion criteria, a fixed time period for blood sample collection, and adjustments for potential confounders, which has not been done before.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Pain
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)940-951
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2023


  • Analgesics, Opioid/therapeutic use
  • Chronic Pain/drug therapy
  • Growth Hormone/therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I/therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Prolactin
  • Testosterone/therapeutic use


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