Methadone prolongs cardiac conduction in young patients with cancer-related pain

J Opioid Manag. May-Jun 2016;12(2):131-8. doi: 10.5055/jom.2016.0325.


Objective: Methadone prolongs cardiac conduction, from mild corrected QT (QTc) prolongation to torsades de pointes and ventricular fibrillation, in adults. However, methadone use for pain and its effects on cardiac conduction have not been investigated in pediatric populations.

Methods: A retrospective review of QTc intervals in patients receiving methadone analgesia was conducted. Medical records from a 4-year period (September 2006 to October 2010) at a pediatric oncology institution were reviewed, and correlations were tested between cardiac conduction and methadone dosage and duration of therapy, electrolyte levels, renal and hepatic dysfunction, and concurrent medications.

Results: Of the 61 patients who received methadone, 37 met our inclusion criteria and underwent 137 electrocardiograms (ECGs). During methadone treatment, the mean QTc was longer than that at baseline (446.5 vs 437.55 ms). The mean methadone dose was 27.0±24.3 mg/d (range, 5-125 mg/d; median, 20 mg/d) or 0.47±0.45 mg/kg per day (range, 0.05-2.25 mg/kg per day; median, 0.37 mg/kg per day), and the mean duration of therapy was 49 days. The authors identified a correlation between automated and manual ECG readings by two cardiologists (Pearson r=0.649; p<0.0001), but the authors found no correlations between methadone dose or duration and concurrent QTc-prolonging medications, sex, age, electrolyte abnormalities, or renal or hepatic dysfunction.

Conclusion: At a clinically effective analgesic dose, methadone dosage and duration were not correlated with QTc prolongation, even in the presence of other risk factors, suggesting that methadone use may be safe in pediatric populations. The correlation between automated and manual ECG readings suggests that automated ECG readings are reliable for monitoring cardiac conductivity during the reported methadone-dosage regimens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / chemically induced*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / diagnosis
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Pain / diagnosis
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Chronic Pain / etiology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Heart Conduction System / drug effects*
  • Heart Conduction System / physiopathology
  • Heart Rate / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Methadone / administration & dosage
  • Methadone / adverse effects*
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Methadone