Opioid exposure during therapeutic hypothermia and short-term outcomes in neonatal encephalopathy

J Perinatol. 2022 Aug;42(8):1017-1025. doi: 10.1038/s41372-022-01400-x. Epub 2022 Apr 26.


Objective: To assess the association between opioid exposure during therapeutic hypothermia (TH) for perinatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and in-hospital outcomes.

Study design: In this retrospective cohort study, linked data were accessed on infants ≥36 weeks gestation, who underwent TH for HIE, born from 2010-2016 in 23 Neonatal Intensive Care Units participating in Children's Hospitals Neonatal Consortium and Pediatric Health Information Systems. We excluded infants who received opioids for >5 days.

Results: The cohort (n = 1484) was categorized as No opioid [240(16.2%)], Low opioid (1-2 days) [574 (38.7%)] and High opioid group (HOG, 3-5 days) [670 (45.2%)]. After adjusting for HIE severity, opioids were not associated with abnormal MRI, but were associated with decreased likelihood of complete oral feeds at discharge. HOG had increased likelihood of prolonged hospital stay and ventilation.

Conclusion: Opioid exposure during TH was not associated with abnormal MRI; its association with adverse short-term outcomes suggests need for cautious empiric use.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia, Induced* / adverse effects
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain* / complications
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain* / therapy
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases* / therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Analgesics, Opioid