Pain Relief with a Side of Opioid-Induced Constipation

For a headache or backache, most of us reach for ibuprofen or acetaminophen. These medications are readily available, extremely safe, and usually, very effective.

However, some conditions produce a level of pain that simply overwhelms the body. In these cases, doctors often prescribe opioids. Statistics show that more than 365 million prescriptions are written for these pain relievers every year.

What Are Opioids?

The class of pain relievers known as opioids has been around for a very long time—since 3400 BC. The compound originally came from the pods of the poppy plant. Throughout the years, scientists have created ways to manufacture synthetic versions, too. You’ll probably recognize some of the most popular opioids used today:

  • Vicodin
  • Duragesic
  • Demerol
  • Percocet
  • OxyContin
  • Morphine

All of these opioids work to block the transmission of pain signals in the body and dull the pain receptors in the brain. They are much, much stronger than over-the-counter pain relievers. Because of that, they are used in more serious medical settings—surgery recovery, cancer treatment, dental procedures, and pain after injuries.

Patients who use opioids for chronic pain relief may develop a tolerance to the medication. Often times, doctors must raise the dosage to keep providing the same amount of pain relief.

Why Can’t I Go?

Like any other medication, opioids come with side effects. Drowsiness, dry mouth, and nausea are often seen in opioid patients, but the most common side effect is constipation. In fact, all types of opioids will cause opioid-induced constipation and some degree of gastrointestinal distress.

As the opioids work to block the body’s pain receptor sites, they also bind to receptor sites in the intestines. This means that the intestines can’t receive or send signals to the brain. The intestines slow their movements and produce fewer secretions than normal. Stool stays in the intestines for a longer period of time, leading to dry stools and constipation.

Should I Stop Taking My Medication?

When you’re initially prescribed a pain medication, be sure to ask about opioid-induced constipation and other side effects. Many doctors will prescribe a stool softener and laxative right away. Colace and Sennakot are two of the most popular options. However, be sure to stay away from Metamucil and other bulk laxatives. These may make opioid-induced constipation much worse.

If you are unable to produce a bowel movement in two days, alert your physician. They may prescribe a stronger laxative/suppository or give you alternative instructions for pain relief.

Learn more by reading Opioid-Induced Constipation: 10 Ways to Make Yourself Go

opioid induced constipation

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