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Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1990 Mar;29(3):289-97.

The metabolism and bioavailability of morphine in patients with severe liver cirrhosis.

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Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Karolinska Institute, Uppsala, Sweden.


1. The oral and intravenous kinetics of morphine were investigated in seven cirrhotic patients with a history of encephalopathy. The plasma concentrations of morphine and its metabolites morphine-3 (M3G) and morphine-6 (M6G) were measured by h.p.l.c. 2. The mean terminal elimination half-life of morphine was 4.2 h (95% CI 3.6-4.8) the mean volume of distribution was 4.1 l kg-1 (95% CI 2.9-5.4) and the mean plasma clearance was 11.4 ml min-1 kg-1 (95% CI 8.1-14.7). The mean oral bioavailability was 101% (95% CI 56-147). 3. The plasma clearance of morphine was significantly lower, its terminal elimination half-life longer and its oral bioavailability greater in the cirrhotic patients compared with patients with normal liver function. The metabolic ratio M3G/morphine was significantly lower in the cirrhotic patients than in control subjects after oral dosing, but did not differ after intravenous dosing. 4. The average urinary recoveries of morphine plus M3G and M6G were 49.9% after i.v. and 57.7% after oral administration. There were no statistically significant differences in the urinary recovery between the two routes of administration or between the cirrhotic patients and controls. 5. Specific changes in the EEG pattern could not be detected after intravenous dosage. 6. The metabolism of morphine is impaired significantly in patients with severe cirrhosis. Clinically important findings were a high oral bioavailability and a long elimination half-life. These findings call for cautious dosing of oral and intravenous morphine in patients with severe end stage liver disease.

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