Weighing the Benefits and Side Effects of Opioids

By

Allie Lemco Toren

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Chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, cancer, and heart disease combined. And living in pain can make everything in your life harder. Over time, it can have a huge impact on your quality of life. Many people turn to over-the-counter pain relievers, but for severe pain, those may not be enough. Eventually, it might be time to turn to prescription painkillers.

Opioids are an effective and popular prescription option for relieving many types of pain—whether it’s temporary, like pain experienced after surgery or during cancer treatment, or chronic, like lingering pain from an accident or an unknown cause. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 5 to 8 million Americans use opioids for chronic pain. Opioids are a class of drugs that include oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxecta, Roxicodone), hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER), codeine, morphine (Astramorph, Avinza, Kadian), fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora), and others. They are derived from the poppy plant and their use dates back centuries.

Opioids may bring effective pain relief, but they also come with some baggage. Unfortunately, because of how they work in the body, opioids tend to cause uncomfortable, embarrassing, and painful constipation. Experts discuss why this occurs and what patients can do to find relief.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jul 18, 2016

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