Opioids and Cardiac Arrhythmia: A Literature Review

Med Princ Pract. 2018;27(5):401-414. doi: 10.1159/000492616. Epub 2018 Aug 2.


Objective: One of the most important side effects of opioids is their influence on the electrical activity of the heart. This review focusses on the effects of opioids on QT interval prolongation and their arrhythmogenic liability.

Methods: By using various keywords, papers published up to 2018 in different databases were searched and identified. The search terms were opioids names, corrected QT interval, human-ether-a-go-go gene, torsades de pointes (TdP), cardiac arrhythmias, opioid dependence and other relevant terms. It emphasized the effects of each opioid agent alone on electrocardiogram (ECG) and some interactions.

Results: Available data indicate that some opioids such as methadone are high-risk even at low doses, and have potential for prolongation of the QT interval and development of TdP, a dangerous ventricular tachycardia. A number of opioids such as tramadol and oxycodone are intermediate risk drugs and may develop long QT interval and TdP in high doses. Some other opioids such as morphine and buprenorphine are low-risk drugs and do not produce QT interval prolongation and TdP at least in routine doses. Opium-consumers are at higher risk of supra-ventricular arrhythmias, sinus bradycardia, cardiac block and atrial fibrillation.

Conclusion: The cardiac arrhythmogenicity of various opioids is different. Methadone has a higher capability to induce long QT interval and dangerous arrhythmias in conventional doses than others. To reduce of arrhythmogenic risk, high doses of opioids must be used cautiously with periodic monitoring of ECG in high-risk consumers such as patients under opioid maintenance treatment.

Keywords: Cardiac arrhythmia; Electrocardiogram; Opioids; QT prolongation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / chemically induced*
  • Electrocardiography / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Methadone / adverse effects
  • Oxycodone / adverse effects
  • Tramadol / adverse effects


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Tramadol
  • Oxycodone
  • Methadone