Why Do Opiates Cause Constipation?

Constipation is having hard stools, excessive strains when passing bowels, infrequent stools, partial bowel evacuation, unsuccessful defecation, or spending too much time passing stool. Constipation has two common classifications:

  • Primary constipation, which results from natural anorectal function or colon defects
  • Secondary constipation that occurs because of pathologic changes, for instance, intestinal obstruction and medications such as opioids

 

Low fiber intake, inadequate body fluids, physical inactivity, spinal cord compression, high calcium levels, kidney problems, or diabetes can lead to bowel dysfunction too.

Constipation can arise because of pharmacologically-based reasons including taking opioids. Opioids are analgesics used for pain relief. Unfortunately, opioids cause hard stools. 81% of patients on opioids to reduce chronic pain end up having opioid-induced constipation (OIC) or opioid-induced bowel dysfunction (OBD), says Salix Pharmaceuticals.

How Opiates Cause Constipation

Opiates include prescriptions medicines for pain, methadone or suboxone, morphine, illicit opiate heroin, which doctors say leads to an opioid epidemic in the United States. Opiates change the way the gastrointestinal tract functions. The pain relievers prolong the time the stool takes to move through the human gastric system.

A person on the pain reduction drugs will have increased non-propulsive contractions across the jejunum or the small intestines midpoint. Consequently, the longitudinal propulsive muscle contractions can slow down affecting how food travels through the intestines.

Food that does not normally move through the digestive tract causes partial stomach paralysis or gastroparesis. Food will remain within the digestive organ for far too long. Further, the opioids cause the reduction of digestive secretions making the patient not have the desire to defecate.

The side effects of illicit opiates abuse begin in the brain with the victim experiencing hallucinations and later digestive issues such as hard stools. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medication methylnaltrexone bromide -Relistor or naloxegol-Movantik can treat OIC. The two medicines reduce constipation arising from opioids without affecting the patient’s brain opioid receptors.

Other reliable IOC treatment methods include the use of stool softeners, usually the docusate sodium (Colace). Increasing fiber intake, eating more fruits, whole grains, and vegetables help a great deal. Also, request a doctor if you can use daily stool softeners or stimulant laxatives.

When the stool overstays in the intestines, the body will absorb all the water in it, making the stool too hard and unable to move.

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