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Opiate Gastrointestinal Effects

Table of Contents

Prescription drugs are useful in the treatment of many conditions but can have secondary effects for many patients. Side effects and other problems can arise when patients take the recommended dosages, and can be magnified in those who misuse or abuse pills. Nearly all drugs carry a warning about possible side effects, both common and severe.
Effects can vary widely among users and may depend on variables including: amount taken, whether pills are taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol, and whether patients are taking pills more frequently than recommended. Opiates are most often used to treat moderate to severe pain. Commonly reported side effects include constipation, dry mouth, nausea, flu-like symptoms, sedation and euphoria. Gastrointestinal damage can occur when opiates are taken in larger amounts than recommended. In addition to gastrointestinal damage, chronic use of opiates can result in inflammation of the stomach, liver damage, ulcers, abdominal bloating and chronic constipation.

Constipation And Impaction

Opiates, including morphine and codeine, have been used for centuries to relieve diarrhea and dysentery. Researchers believe opiates affect the intestines, where peristaltic movements are diminished by the drugs. These movements are responsible for moving food through the intestine. Feces become dehydrated, which hardens the stool, further preventing the natural flow of waste.
Opiates can interfere with normal elimination by relaxing the smooth muscle in intestines and preventing them from contracting and expelling waste. With regular use of opiates, stools can become rock hard, blocking the bowels. In severe cases, bowels can rupture, leading to sepsis or death. Doctors recommend increasing fiber, drinking more water and exercising to prevent constipation.  A patient who has become impacted may experience symptoms including back pain, bladder problems, abdominal pain, dehydration, confusion, sweating and enlarged abdomen. Laxatives may be prescribed or doctors may have to manually remove feces in severe cases.


Examples of opiates include heroin, OxyContin , codeine, Fentanyl, morphine, methadone, Darvocet, Dilaudid, Norco and Lortab. All opiates have the potential to cause dyspepsia, which literally means “bad digestion.” It is characterized by sour stomach, a bloated or full feeling, belching, gas or burning pain.
Dyspepsia is also known as indigestion. Many prescription drugs report dyspepsia as a potential side effect. Stopping or switching medication may help. Many people taking painkillers learn to manage their symptoms of dyspepsia because discontinuing their medication would mean a return to pain.

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