What are opioids?
According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and many others.” They interact with opioid receptors in your cells and are highly effective painkillers.
What are some of the side effects of opioids?
Unfortunately, patients who are on long-term opioid treatment plans, as well as those who become addicted to opioids, may suffer from side effects of opioids. Constipation, nausea, and other symptoms of gastrointestinal distress are common symptoms for those using opioids. In fact, these symptoms are so common that they are often diagnosed as narcotic bowel syndrome or NBS. NBS differs from other gastrointestinal disorders in that it is not caused by a dysfunction of the bowel but by an outside cause: opioid use.
One reason for opioid-induced constipation is that opioid use interferes with the gut’s natural biome system. Once the diversity of the gut’s system is disturbed, it can lead to other health issues. Studies have shown that the guts of opioid users have less microdiversity and may actually have more pathogenic growths. It is unsure why or how the effects of opioids on gut health take place, but there does seem to be a clear connection. Another problem for some patients is that opioid use, especially among addicts, may further the progression of HIV, perhaps due to the disruption of homeostasis in the gut.
Some opioids are prescribed to treat pain caused by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). But a new study has shown that using opioids to treat IBD actually makes the disease worse. For people with a healthy gut, using opioids can cause side effects, but for people with IBD, the effects are even worse. An overgrowth of harmful bacteria can lead to a reaction from the immune system or cause leaky gut syndrome. For this reason, it is recommended that people suffering from IBD ask their physicians about alternatives to opioids.
How are the side effects of opioids treated?
Due to the effects of opioids, some patients give up the course of treatment while others require further medical intervention. Oftentimes laxatives are prescribed to help combat opioids. But for many patients, laxatives aren’t enough, so in recent years there have been new medications that have arrived on the market to combat opioid-induced constipation. The effects of opioids to tie up bowel movements have long been known, and opioids are not only prescribed as painkillers but also for extreme diarrhea.
Despite giving up on opioid treatments or learning to cope with addiction, many people who take opioids long term find that although they are no longer using the drugs, they are still coping with the symptoms.
Opioids come in different classes and offer different benefits. It is important to always take the lowest possible dose. In addition, try exploring other options. Probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods may help reduce the risk of harmful bacteria taking over your gut. It can also be worth it to try exploring other methods of pain management, such as acupressure or acupuncture, which don’t rely on medications and cause side effects.