No effects of hydrocortisone and dexamethasone on pain sensitivity in healthy individuals

Wingenfeld, K., Wolf, S., Kunz, M., Krieg, J-C. & Lautenbacher, S., Jul-2015, In : EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PAIN. 19, 6, p. 834-41 8 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

  • K Wingenfeld
  • S Wolf
  • M Kunz
  • J-C Krieg
  • S Lautenbacher

BACKGROUND: There is some evidence that stress-induced cortisol increase leads to a decrease in pain, while lowering cortisol levels enhances pain sensitivity, but no study has yet investigated both pharmacological enhancement and reduction of cortisol levels in the same individuals.

METHODS: Firstly, we tested in 16 healthy individuals whether the treatment with hydrocortisone and dexamethasone, respectively, results in altered pain thresholds. Secondly, we aimed to test whether hormone effects are different across the pain range by using ratings for pain stimuli with varying intensity; and thirdly, we tested whether cortisol levels influence the discrimination ability for painful stimuli.

RESULTS: Despite substantial effects of dexamethasone and hydrocortisone administration on cortisol levels, no effect of these drugs was seen in terms of pain sensitivity (pain threshold, pain rating, pain discrimination ability), although comprehensively examined. However, in the placebo condition, a significant negative correlation between cortisol and pain thresholds was seen. Similarly, there were also strong negative associations between cortisol levels in the placebo condition and pain thresholds after drug treatment (especially after hydrocortisone).

CONCLUSION: These findings suggest that short-term variations of cortisol do not influence pain sensitivity whereas, in general, high levels of cortisol are associated with increased pain sensitivity, at least for weak to moderate stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)834-41
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jul-2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult, Dexamethasone, Female, Humans, Hydrocortisone, Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System, Male, Middle Aged, Pain, Pain Threshold, Stress, Psychological

ID: 29187991