Methadone Destabilizes Cardiac Repolarization During Sleep

Soroosh Solhjoo*, Naresh M. Punjabi, Andrada E. Ivanescu, Ciprian Crainiceanu, Irina Gaynanova, Cassie Wicken, Chester Buckenmaier, Mark C. Haigney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Methadone, a widely prescribed medication for chronic pain and opioid addiction, is associated with respiratory depression and increased predisposition for torsades de pointes, a potentially fatal arrhythmia. Most methadone-related deaths occur during sleep. The objective of this study was to determine whether methadone’s arrhythmogenic effects increase during sleep, with a focus on cardiac repolarization instability using QT variability index (QTVI), a measure shown to predict arrhythmias and mortality. Sleep study data of 24 patients on chronic methadone therapy referred to a tertiary clinic for overnight polysomnography were compared with two matched groups not on methadone: 24 patients referred for overnight polysomnography to the same clinic (clinic group), and 24 volunteers who had overnight polysomnography at home (community group). Despite similar values for heart rate, heart rate variability, corrected QT interval, QTVI, and oxygen saturation (SpO2) when awake, patients on methadone had larger QTVI (P = 0.015 vs. clinic, P < 0.001 vs. community) and lower SpO2 (P = 0.008 vs. clinic, P = 0.013 vs. community) during sleep, and the increase in their QTVI during sleep vs. wakefulness correlated with the decrease in SpO2 (r = −0.54, P = 0.013). QTVI positively correlated with methadone dose during sleep (r = 0.51, P = 0.012) and wakefulness (r = 0.73, P < 0.001). High-density ectopy (> 1,000 premature beats per median sleep period), a precursor for torsades de pointes, was uncommon but more frequent in patients on methadone (P = 0.039). This study demonstrates that chronic methadone use is associated with increased cardiac repolarization instability. Methadone’s pro-arrhythmic impact may be mediated by sleep-related hypoxemia, which could explain the increased nocturnal mortality associated with this opioid.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1066-1074
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes


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