Opiate antagonist therapy for the pruritus of cholestasis: the avoidance of opioid withdrawal-like reactions

QJM. 2002 Aug;95(8):547-52. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/95.8.547.


Increased opioidergic neurotransmission in the brain appears to contribute to the pruritus that complicates cholestasis and certain non-cholestatic chronic liver diseases. Opiate antagonists have been shown to decrease scratching activity in patients with the pruritus of cholestasis. Initiation of oral administration of an orally bioavailable opiate antagonist may precipitate a florid opioid-withdrawal-like reaction in patients with pruritus complicating cholestasis. Such reactions can be minimized, or avoided completely, by cautiously infusing naloxone before giving small oral doses of an orally bioavailable opiate antagonist. The infusion rate of naloxone should initially be very low; it should be increased gradually and stopped when a rate known to be associated with opioid antagonist effects has been attained. Oral therapy with an opiate antagonist can then be initiated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Cholestasis / complications
  • Cholestasis / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Naloxone / administration & dosage*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / administration & dosage*
  • Narcotics / adverse effects*
  • Pruritus / drug therapy*
  • Pruritus / etiology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / prevention & control*


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Narcotics
  • Naloxone