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Nalbuphine for Treatment of Opioid-induced Pruritus

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Opioid-induced pruritus is a common side effect of opioid treatment in patients with acute pain associated with surgery or childbirth. There are several options available to treat opioid-induced pruritus, including nalbuphine. However, it is not known whether nalbuphine offers greater efficacy in treating pruritus without attenuation of analgesia and an increase in the incidence of adverse outcomes.


A systematic search of studies assessing treatment efficacy of nalbuphine was conducted through Medline, PubMed, Cochrane Library, CINAHL, and ProQuest databases. The primary outcome was reduction of pruritus, whereas the secondary outcomes included analgesia and adverse outcomes.


Ten studies that met all inclusion criteria were identified, 9 of which were randomized controlled trials and 1 case report. The incidence of pruritus was higher among patients receiving neuraxial opioids than those with the intravenous route. Nalbuphine provided greater efficacy in treating opioid-induced pruritus when compared with placebo, control, or other pharmacologic agents such as diphenhydramine, naloxone, and propofol. There was no attenuation of analgesia or increase in sedation with low-dose nalbuphine treatment—25% to 50% of the dose to treat pain, that is, 2.5 to 5 mg versus 10 mg intravenously. Further, nalbuphine was associated with reduction of nausea or vomiting, and reversal of respiratory depression.


Nalbuphine is superior in treating opioid-induced pruritus when compared with placebo, control, diphenhydramine, naloxone, or propofol in patients receiving neuraxial opioids for acute pain related to surgery or childbirth. Therefore, it is recommended that nalbuphine should be used as a first-line treatment of opioid-induced pruritus.
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Keywords: itching; nalbuphine; neuraxial; nubain; opioid; opioid-induced; pruritus; treatment

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Winchester Medical Center, Winchester, VA

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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