5 Myths About Painkiller-Induced Constipation

  • The Truth Will Set Your Bowels Free
    Constipation is an unfortunate, but common, side effect of prescription opioid pain medications (opioids). But you may be surprised to learn some common misconceptions about how painkillers affect your digestive system and what you can (or can’t) do about it.

  • Myth No. 1: It’s one (discomfort) or the other.
    Constipation is one of the most common reasons patients avoid or abandon their painkillers and, as a result, suffer needlessly. But there are many steps you can take to help manage constipation while you continue taking your medication. These include making dietary changes and increasing your activity level with gentle exercises. Talk to your doctor about the best options for you.

  • Myth No. 2: You can’t do anything to prevent it.
    Because pain medications are a well-known constipation trigger, healthcare providers often recommend getting a jump on the potential blow to your bowels. This means taking self-care steps as soon as you start your medication, before constipation has a chance to set in.

  • Myth No. 3: Fiber laxatives will take care of it.
    For regular old constipation, yes, over-the-counter fiber laxatives can be beneficial; they help bulk up the stool, which helps more water get to the intestines, making it easier for things to move through the system. But for those who take opioid pain medications, taking laxatives such as Metamucil or Citrucel may actually worsen constipation, especially if you are dehydrated or aren’t getting the nutrients you need in your diet.

  • Myth No. 4: I won’t get it if I’m only taking painkillers for acute flare-ups.
    Opioids may be prescribed for acute flare-ups of pain or for treatment of chronic (long-term) pain. And although long-term use of these medications increases the likelihood of developing constipation, either one can lead to it.

  • Myth No. 5: It can’t get any worse.
    You may wonder, what could be worse than having constipation as a result of taking your pain medication? Having constipation that gets even worse. Dehydration is a major cause of constipation, and combined with the use of opioids, it can lead to substantial constipation. Be sure you are getting at least eight glasses of water or other non-caffeinated fluids per day and limiting your salt intake (unless your doctor has prescribed otherwise).

5 Myths About Painkiller-Induced Constipation

  1. Constipation Overview. Familydoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/constipation.html

  2. Definition and Facts for Constipation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/constipation/Pages/definition-facts.aspx

  3. Constipation. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_constipation

  4. Management of opioid-induced constipation. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11309211

  5. Self-care for Opioid Induced Constipation. Arthritis-Health. http://www.arthritis-health.com/treatment/medications/self-care-opioid-induced-constipation

  6. Coping with Constipation Caused by Opioid Medication. Arthritis Health. http://www.arthritis-health.com/treatment/medications/coping-constipation-caused-opioid-medication

Was this helpful?
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 16
Explore Digestive Health
Recommended Reading
Next Up
  • There are four drugs in the H2 blocker class—cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), nizatidine (Axid), and ranitidine (Zantac). Each works about as well as the other.
  • Like other functions, stomach acid production has a circadian rhythm. It’s highest at night between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am. When ranitidine is used for ulcers, the dose is once a day at bedtime or twice daily.
  • Ranitidine HCl (Zantac) is a histamine-2 receptor blocker, or H2 blocker for gastroesophageal reflux disease and other conditions.
  • Enema uses most commonly focus on constipation relief, but other reasons for enema include cleansing the colon before a medical examination.
  • An enema procedure can provide relief for constipation and may be performed at home or by a doctor. Here's what to expect.
  • Get an overview of the pancreas, including pancreas function, location and possible pancreas symptoms and conditions.
  • Get an overview of the gallbladder, including gallbladder function, location and possible gallbladder symptoms and conditions.
  • Learn why it's called 'slow stomach,' how gastroparesis from diabetes occurs, and medications to avoid when you have gastroparesis.
Answers to Your Health Questions
Trending Videos