Endocr Pract. 2020 Nov;26(11):1291-1297. doi: 10.4158/EP-2020-0297.
OBJECTIVE: Opioid-induced adrenal insufficiency (OIAI) may develop in patients treated with chronic opioids due to suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Our objective was to describe the clinical manifestations, biochemical presentation, and clinical course of OIAI.
METHODS: A retrospective study of adults diagnosed with OIAI between 2006 and 2018 at an academic center. Opioid daily dose was converted into morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs).
RESULTS: Forty patients (women, n = 29 [73%]) taking chronic opioids at a daily median MME dose of 105 (60 to 200) mg and median duration of 60 (3 to 360) months were diagnosed with OIAI. Patients reported fatigue (n = 29, 73%), musculoskeletal pain (n = 21, 53%), and weight loss (n = 17, 53%) for a median of 12 (range, 1 to 132) months prior to diagnosis, and only 7.5% (n = 3) of patients were identified with OIAI through case detection. Biochemical diagnosis of OIAI was based on (1) low morning cortisol, baseline adrenocorticotropic hormone and/or dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate in 59% (n = 26) of patients or (2) abnormal cosyntropin stimulation test in 41% (n = 14) of patients. With glucocorticoid replacement, 16/23 (70%) patients with available follow-up experienced improvement in symptoms. Opioids were tapered or discontinued in 15 patients, of whom 10 were followed for adrenal function and of which 7 (70%) recovered from OIAI.
CONCLUSION: Minimum daily MME in patients diagnosed with OIAI was 60 mg. OIAI causes significant morbidity, and recognition requires a high level of clinical suspicion. Appropriate glucocorticoid treatment led to improvement of symptoms in 70%. Resolution of OIAI occurred following opioid cessation or reduction.