Chronic pain therapy and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis impairment

Anna Maria Aloisi, Michelangelo Buonocore, Laura Merlo, Caterina Galandra, Alberto Sotgiu, Luisa Bacchella, Marina Ungaretti, Laura Demartini, Cesare Bonezzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Opiates and/or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are among the most effective therapies for chronic pain, but their prolonged time of use can affect health conditions through physical and psychological side effects. They include the very common gastrointestinal effects and changes that can induce osteoporosis, depression, impaired cognition and a generally poor quality of life, which per se can induce and maintain a chronic painful condition. For this reason it is becoming imperative to expand our knowledge of the interaction of these substances with body functions apparently not directly involved in nociception and pain, such as neuroendocrine functions. The purpose of this study was to determine, in male and female patients suffering from chronic pain, the effect of conventional pain therapy (opiates, NSAIDs) on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function. This was assessed by measuring the blood levels of adrenal-related hormones (adrenocorticotrophin hormone, ACTH; cortisol; dehydroepiandrosterone, DHEA and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, DHEAS). The second purpose of the study was to test the hypothesis that these hormones are associated with the psychological profile shown by the chronic pain patients. The results showed significant changes induced by pain therapy on the HPA axis: ACTH, cortisol, DHEA and DHEAS blood levels decreased in all subjects taking opiates or NSAIDs to treat pain. Moreover these changes showed significant correlations with psychological features of the subjects depending on age and sex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1032-1039
Number of pages8
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011


  • Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
  • NSAIDs
  • Opiates
  • Pain
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems


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