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Opioid Induced Constipation | Causes and Treatment

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Opioids have become the most commonly prescribed class of medications in the United States, with 207 million prescriptions written in 2013, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Some of these prescription opioids (such as morphine) are derived from natural sources, while others are synthetic. Regardless of origin, use of opioids can significantly increase risk of gastrointestinal problems. One of the most common of these problems is called opioid induced constipation, which affects millions of people who use opioids.

Symptoms of Opioid Induced Constipation

We have known for centuries that opioids cause constipation. Indeed, opioids were a common treatment for diarrhea in ancient times. Today, this profile of gastrointestinal problems goes by the name “opioid induced constipation,” or OIC. For example, common symptoms of OIC include:

  • Hard, dry stool
  • Straining or forcing during defecation
  • Painful defecation
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Distention of the abdomen
  • Feeling bloated
  • Constant feeling of needing to use the bathroom
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chronic fatigue or lethargy
  • Feeling sick
  • Depressed mood

Together, these symptoms significantly reduce the quality of life for many people struggling with opioid use. Indeed, our patients often cite gastrointestinal discomfort as one of the most frustrating and painful symptoms of prolonged opioid use.

Causes of OIC

The body has several types of opioid receptors, each with its own special properties. In addition, many of these receptors are found in brain areas related to pleasure and reward, which explains the addictive properties of opioids. However, the intestines contain a surprisingly high number of opioid receptors. As a result, one of the most common symptoms of opioid abuse is constipation or gastrointestinal irregularity.
Opioid receptors on intestinal cells regulate a variety of bodily processes. In particular, stimulation of these receptors may increase sphincter tone, block the rhythmic contractions of intestinal muscle walls, change emptying of the stomach, and inhibit the secretion of fluids. Together, these effects cause individuals to experience opioid induced constipation.

Treatment for Opioid Induced Constipation OIC

Doctors typically recommend lifestyle changes to reduce the symptoms of opioid induced constipation. For instance, an increase in fluid intake, boosting daily fiber consumption, increasing frequency of exercise, or ensuring enough time is provided for using the toilet. In other cases, doctors may prescribe laxatives or other medications that soften stool.
These treatments may have some success in easing OIC symptoms. However, for many people, lifestyle changes are not enough and long term use of laxatives can cause additional gastrointestinal problems. Chronic constipation is painful and prevents people from fully engaging with life. The best way to treat symptoms of OIC is to attack them at their cause: prolonged use of prescription opioids.

Waismann Method of Opioid Treatment

At the Waismann Method Medical Group, we believe in providing humane and compassionate treatment for opioid abuse. For people suffering from opioid induced constipation, our opiate detox protocols can help them reduce their gastrointestinal issues and more quickly resume everyday life. Our approach is to treat every patient as an individual, allowing us to provide customized treatment protocols that meet the person’s unique needs. For example, we begin by thoroughly assessing each person’s medical history, current symptoms of OIC or other problems, psychological state, and history of drug use. This allows us to help you find an individualized treatment plan that best addresses your needs.
We also believe that opioid detox treatment works best when patients are comfortable. As a result, we provide care in a full service, accredited hospital where each patient gets a private room. For people dealing with gastrointestinal problems related to opioid abuse, this can be a significant relief. Additionally, after the detox process in the hospital, our clients spend time in our exclusive Domus Retreat. Here, they receive full housekeeping and meal services while focusing on their recovery from opioid addiction.
Contact us today if you would like to learn more about how the Waismann Method Medical Group can help you overcome opioid induced constipation and related problems.
Opioid receptors in the gastrointestinal tract. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on October 14, 2015.
America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on October 14, 2015.

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