Opioid Side Effects: More Than Just Addiction
By now, most people realize that opioid side effects include tolerance, dependence, addiction, possible overdose, and death. However, opioids may contribute to a wealth of other side effects – some of which you may not be aware.
Common opioid painkillers include Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, and Norco. All of these medications can cause these and other potentially negative side effects.
Opioid Side effects
Sleep apnea is a condition in which there are short periods of breathlessness during sleep. The risk and incidence of sleep apnea can increase with higher doses of opioids. Additionally, using opioids with alcohol, or other drugs can increase the risk. Sleep apnea actually interferes with quality sleep, and may result in increased tiredness during the day. Sleep patterns may be interrupted and altered as a result.
Lung and Heart Problems
Because opioid use causes sedation and central nervous system depression, the brain’s ability to control respiration is reduced, thus breathing may be slowed. Over time, the heart and lungs can be damaged if they are not receiving enough air. Highers doses of opioids increase this risk, as does using alcohol and other sedative drugs concurrently.
Constipation is characterized by infrequent bowel movements and hard stools. It is actually a very common side effect of opioid use. Laxatives and stool softeners may help, but some may need slightly aggressive measures such as suppositories. The constipation is not expected to go away over time, and may also cause fecal impaction, overflow diarrhea, and pseudo-obstruction if not treated.
Low Sex Hormones
Patients on long-term opioid therapy tend to have lower sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. In women, menstrual cycles may lessen or stop. In men, sex drive may decrease, as well as the ability to get or maintain an erection.
Also, thyroid hormones such as cortisol, as well as the entire hormonal system can be affected.
Opioid use can reduce the amount of saliva causing a condition called dry mouth. One of the purposes of saliva is the wash away bacteria which can cause tooth decay. Long-acting opioids can cause chronic dry mouth, which in addition to being unhealthy for the mouth and teeth, can also be very uncomfortable. Regardless, regular dental appointments are often necessary.
Sensitivity from Opioid Pain Medicines
Use of long-term opioids can make pain worse. This is known as hyperalgesia. It occurs because opioid use causes the body to be extra sensitive to things which are usually not painful. Increased opioid use can make pain worse and also cause pain in other parts of the body.
Moreover, the nervous system becomes more sensitive to pain stimulation. There are physical changes in the way pain signals are transmitted. With more nerve pain, the more sensitivity to movement and the more medication needed to control the pain. This is one of the more disturbing opioid side effects, since the condition they are suppose to improve can actually be made worse.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
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