Gender Differences in Depression and Sex Hormones among Patients Receiving Long-Term Opioid Treatment for Chronic Noncancer Pain in Taiwan-A Multicenter Cross-Sectional Study

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 23;18(15):7837. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18157837.


Background: Long-term use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain is associated with sex hormone disturbances. The interferences with sex hormones, sexual function, and depression were investigated in patients with chronic noncancer pain.

Methods: A cross-sectional multicenter survey was conducted on 170 officially registered outpatients receiving long-term opioid treatment in nine medical centers in Taiwan between October 2018 and July 2019. Serum sex hormone levels were examined after the collection of self-administered questionnaires containing the Taiwanese version of the Brief Pain Inventory, depressive status, and sexual function interference.

Results: Among 117 (68.8%) questionnaire responses from 170 enrolled outpatients, 38 women and 62 men completed the sex hormone tests, among whom only 23 (23%) had previously received blood hormone tests. Low serum total testosterone levels were detected in 34 (89.5%) women (<30 ng/dL) and 31 (50%) men (<300 ng/dL). Over 60% of women and men reported reduced sexual desire and function despite a nearly 50% reduction in pain intensity and daily function interference over the previous week after opioid treatment. Women generally had higher risks of a depression diagnosis (p = 0.034) and severe depressive symptoms (p = 0.003) and nonsignificantly lower opioid treatment duration (median 81 vs. 120 months) and morphine milligram equivalent (median 134 vs. 165 mg/day) compared with men.

Conclusions: This survey demonstrated the high prevalence of depression diagnosis, low sex hormone levels, and reduced sexual function among Taiwanese patients with chronic noncancer pain receiving prolonged opioid therapy. Regular hypogonadal screenings are recommended for further management.

Keywords: chronic pain; depression; gender difference; opioid; sex hormone.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid* / therapeutic use
  • Chronic Pain* / drug therapy
  • Chronic Pain* / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Taiwan / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones