Opioids and their effect on IBS

In many ways, pain is a great teacher. We learn to avoid fire, sharp objects, and many other things that could cause us harm. It alerts the body to injury and disease. Depending on intensity and duration, pain can also have a drastic effect on quality of life.

Historically, opioids were the first line of defense for easing severe pain. They date as far back as 5000 B.C. Before the discovery of chloroform, they gave physicians an effective way to help patients recover.

However, opioids have a dark side, leading to addiction, overdose, and death. Research shows opiates can also cause a decline in gastric motility, which leads to constipation. Several years ago, a team of gastroenterologists conducted a study on how these pain medications are prescribed for patients with functional GI disorders (FGID) (chronic conditions not caused by tumors or masses but by abnormal functioning of the GI tract). They found that 40% of the time, doctors prescribed opioids for FGIDs rather than a less addictive pain medication. What concerned the research team was that these drugs also worsened pain and exacerbated constipation. According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, 50 - 80% of people who take opioid medicines develop more severe constipation.

Opioids as pain management have a place in medicine. For those suffering from the effects of post-surgical procedures, cancer treatments, or broken bones, opioid medications could benefit from its ability to effectively block pain. However, it may not be the right choice for chronic pain and not for those with IBS-C. Physicians may not realize that opioid-containing medications could be harmful if they’re not aware of your IBS diagnosis. Being honest and asking questions is the first step to seeking a different pain alternative.