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Opioid-Induced Gastrointestinal Damage

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opioid induced gastrointestinal damage

The use of opioids over a long period of time can cause significant damage to the gastrointestinal tract that may require treatment. These issues stem from a long-term slowdown of gastrointestinal function, leading to constipation, nausea, vomiting, spasms, the formation of hard and dry stool, and loss of appetite. This creates a problem for people with moderate to serious pain treated with opioids such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Fentanyl. This also goes for long-term opioid maintenance therapy with methadone or Suboxone, medications used to treat opioid addiction.

Opioid-Induced Constipation and Diverculitis

The slowing of the gastrointestinal function creates opioid-Induced constipation (OIC) and may cause people to strain while having a bowel movement. This means that many chronic opioid users develop hemorrhoids, which can be painful and itchy. Hemorrhoids can also cause bleeding. Another risk of taking these medications long-term is diverticulitis, an infection in the colon where stool becomes stagnant. Diverticulitis can also create discomfort in the form of abdominal pain, fever, and bloating. The problem can progress, culminating in colon rupture. 

Home Remedies for the Relieve of Opioid-Induced Constipation

Here are a few tips on things you can do at home to help manage OIC discomfort:
1. Increase your physical activity. Exercising stimulate contractions in the intestinal tract, which often helps in promoting bowel activity. Discuss with your doctor the adequate exercise routine for you.
2. Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is one of the primary causes of opioid-induced constipation. Try drinking 8-10 glasses of fluids daily.
3. Eat foods high on fiber. Increasing your fiber intake naturally helps normalize bowel activity. Add to your diet a healthy amount of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
4. Use ice or heat. People struggling with constipation often feel abdominal pain. Applying a warm or cold compress to your pelvic area can significantly help in relieving discomfort.
5. Eliminate sugary, fatty, and processed foods in your diet. These foods are hard to digest and can make the symptoms of OIC much worse.

Gastrointestinal Damage Can Also Affect the Mouth and Eyes

Another effect of long-term opioid use is the possibility it will cause a drying out of the whole gastrointestinal tract. This includes the mouth and can cause xerostomia. This is a medical term used to refer to the lack of saliva production that can cause further problems such as bad breath, tooth decay, difficulty chewing, and speaking and swallowing problems. Saliva also helps a person taste food and beverages, so a lack of saliva may affect the taste. This condition may also affect digestion, as enzymes in saliva aid in that process.
Long-term use of opioids can also affect a person’s vision. This can cause dry eyes and miosis. This condition decreases a person’s visual acuity in dim lighting. The long-term use of opioids can also destroy sleep patterns. This can lead to stress and bruxism, which is clenching of the teeth. This, in turn, can affect the gums and teeth. Clenching the teeth can also put added pressure on muscles, tissues, and structures around the jaw. This can cause problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

Suffering and Discomfort May Affect a Person’s Quality of Life

Gastrointestinal issues stemming from chronic opioid use can greatly affect a person’s quality of life. They may begin to feel like they can’t do things they once enjoyed. Constipation, in particular, can cause patients to begin taking laxatives regularly. Others may decide to scale back or stop taking their prescription opioids altogether, despite the risk that the pain will return.
We strongly encourage individuals who take prescription opioids to recognize the repercussions and potential dangers of misusing these drugs. If you or your loved ones need treatment or detoxification from opioids, we urge you to consult your doctor or contact us for further assistance. Waismann Method®, a pioneering medical opiate detoxification procedure, provides an alternative treatment option to prescription painkiller dependency. Performed in a hospital intensive care unit, the Waismann Method utilizes careful administration of medications to reverse the physiological dependence on opiates while the symptoms of withdrawal are addressed. During the procedure, the patient experiences minimal conscious withdrawal. Following treatment, patients are opiate-free and stay at the Domus Retreat, where a team of professionals supervises them as part of the recovery and transition process.

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