Acute pain management pharmacology for the patient with concurrent renal or hepatic disease

Anaesth Intensive Care. 2005 Jun;33(3):311-22. doi: 10.1177/0310057X0503300306.


The clinical utility of most analgesic drugs is altered in the presence of patients with impaired renal or hepatic function not simply because of altered clearance of the parent drug, but also through production and accumulation of toxic or therapeutically active metabolites. Some analgesic agents may also aggravate pre-existing renal and hepatic disease. A search was performed, taking in published articles and pharmaceutical data to determine available evidence for managing acute pain effectively and safely in these two patient groups. The resulting information consisted mainly of small group pharmacokinetic studies or case reports, which included a large variation in degree of organ dysfunction. In the presence of renal impairment, those drugs which exhibit the safest pharmacological profile are alfentanil, buprenorphine, fentanyl, ketamine, paracetamol (except with compound analgesics), remifentanil and sufentanil. none of these deliver a high active metabolite load, or suffer from significantly prolonged clearance. Amitriptyline, bupivacaine, clonidine, gabapentin, hydromorphone, levobupivacaine, lignocaine, methadone, mexiletine, morphine, oxycodone and tramadol have been used in the presence of renal failure, but do require specific precautions, usually dose reduction. Aspirin, dextropropoxyphene, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and pethidine, should not be used in the presence of chronic renal failure due to the risk of significant toxicity. In the presence of hepatic impairment, most drugs are subject to significantly impaired clearance and increased oral bioavailability, but are poorly studied in the clinical setting. The agent least subject to alteration in this context is remifentanil; however the drugs' potency has other inherent dangers. Other agents must only be used with caution and close patient monitoring. Amitriptyline, carbamazepine and valproate should be avoided as the risk of fulminant hepatic failure is higher in this population, and methadone is contraindicated in the presence of severe liver disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics* / pharmacokinetics
  • Analgesics* / therapeutic use
  • Biological Availability
  • Contraindications
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / metabolism*
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Liver Diseases / metabolism*
  • Liver Diseases / physiopathology
  • Metabolic Clearance Rate
  • Pain / drug therapy*


  • Analgesics