Opioids and Sleep Disordered Breathing

Emer Van Ryswyk, Nicholas Antic

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    50 Citations (Scopus)


    Opioid use for chronic pain analgesia, particularly chronic noncancer pain, has increased greatly since the late 1990s, resulting in an increase in opioid-associated morbidity and mortality. A clear link between opioid use and sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) has been established, with the majority of chronic opioid users being affected by the condition, and dose-dependent severity apparent for some opioids. More evidence is currently needed on how to effectively manage opioid-induced SDB. This review summarizes the current state of knowledge relating to management of patients undergoing chronic opioid therapy who have SDB. Initial management of these patients requires a thorough biopsychosocial assessment of their need for opioid therapy, consideration of reduction or cessation of the opioid if possible, and analysis of alternative therapies for treatment of their pain. If opioid therapy must be continued, then management of the associated SDB may be important. Several small- to medium-scale studies have examined the efficacy of noninvasive ventilation, particularly adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) for the treatment of opioid-associated SDB. This research is particularly important because opioids predispose predominantly to central sleep apnea and also, to a lesser extent, OSA. Generally, these studies have found positive results in treating opioid-associated SDB with ASV in terms of improving outcome measures such as central apnea index and the apnea-hypopnea index. Larger studies that measure longer term health outcomes, patient sleepiness, and compliance are needed, however. Registries of health outcomes of ASV-treated patients may assist with future treatment planning.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)934-944
    Number of pages11
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


    • central sleep apnea
    • opioids
    • sleep-disordered breathing


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