Objective: Sexual dysfunction and low testosterone levels have been observed previously in males with chronic noncancer pain treated with intrathecal opioids. To investigate the hypothesis that intrathecal opioids suppress the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, a prospective nonrandomized investigation of the function of this axis was undertaken.
Design: Ten males with chronic noncancer pain were evaluated for clinical and biochemical evidence of hypogonadism at baseline and during the first twelve weeks of intrathecal opioid therapy.
Results: Intrathecal opioid administration resulted in a significant (p <0.0001) reduction in serum testosterone, from 7.7 +/- 1.1 (mean +/- SEM) nmol/L at baseline to 2.0 +/- 0.7, 2.8 +/- 0.5, and 4.0 +/- 0.9 nmol/L at 1, 4, and 12 weeks, respectively. This was associated with a reduction in libido and potency. Luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone levels remained within reference ranges, indicating central rather than peripheral suppression.
Conclusions: Administration of intrathecal opioids may result in hypogonadotrophic hypogonadism. As part of the consent for therapy process, patients should be informed about this effect and its management. With long-term intrathecal opioid administration, the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis should be monitored. Where indicated, testosterone replacement should be undertaken to improve sexual function and prevent the potential metabolic effects of hypogonadism, in particular, osteoporosis.