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J Hepatol. 2002 Dec;37(6):717-22.

Efficacy and safety of oral naltrexone treatment for pruritus of cholestasis, a crossover, double blind, placebo-controlled study.

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Unidad de Hepatología, Hospital de Gastroenterología Bonorino Udaondo, Escuela de Medicina, Universidad del Salvador, Avenida Caseros, 2061 (1264), Buenos Aires, Argentina.



To assess the efficacy and safety of naltrexone for the short and long term treatment of pruritus of cholestasis.


Twenty patients with pruritus and cholestasis were included. A baseline pruritus score was obtained over 1 week. Patients were then randomized to receive 50 mg/day of naltrexone or placebo for 2 weeks. Subsequently, a 1-week washout period ensued and patients were crossed over to the other therapy for 2 additional weeks. Pruritus was assessed daily with a visual analogue scale (VAS) from 0 to 10. Patients whose pruritus decreased >50% of basal with naltrexone received naltrexone 50 mg/day for 2 additional months.


Mean basal VAS was similar in both groups. VAS showed greater and more significant changes with naltrexone than with placebo (P<0.0003). In nine out of 20 patients (45%) receiving naltrexone, pruritus decreased >50% compared to basal value, including five whose pruritus disappeared completely. No significant changes were observed in serum biochemistry. Most of the adverse events that occurred during the first 48 h of naltrexone therapy were consistent with opioid withdrawal-like phenomena and spontaneously disappeared 2 days after starting treatment.


Naltrexone can be considered as an alternative option to treat pruritus of cholestasis. In the current study, side effects were transient and did not require specific medication.

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