Opioids are a type of prescription pain medication which can trigger a specific type of constipation known as opioid-induced constipation. Opioid drugs include painkillers, such as Oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. These medications are effective because they block pain signals by attaching to receptors throughout the nervous system. These receptors are found in the bowels. Constipation can be uncomfortable and, after a time, potentially wreak havoc on a person’s life and health.
When a person feels constipated, it is very uncomfortable and disheartening. It can feel very isolated and lonely to deal with a chronic health issue that feels difficult to talk about with others. Some medications can provide relief, such as over-the-counter ones, including:
- Stool softener: Colace and Surfak increase water in the colon to help pass stool easier
- Osmotics: help fluid move through the colon and include oral magnesium hydroxide and MiraLax
- Stimulants: Bisacodyl and senna-sennosides induce bowel activity by increasing intestinal contractions
When coping with opioid-induced constipation symptoms, some supplements and herbs can help relieve discomfort. These include:
- Fiber supplement: has a laxative effect that increases water absorption into colon. This forms bulkier stools and helps stools pass easier. More studies and research are needed to confirm efficacy of fiber supplements
- Aloe vera: aloe vera extract may increase volume of fecal matter and improve drug-induced constipation. The herb decreases effectiveness of certain medications, including cholesterol-lowering drugs, anti-inflammatories, and hormonal drugs
- Senna: a yellow flowering plant that has a laxative effect. Senna supplements are available as capsules, tablets, and tea. Anyone can buy dry senna leaves from a health food store and brew them in hot water. Should only be taken on a short-term basis. Long-term use can lead to electrolyte imbalance and diarrhea
Other ways to increase capacity for releasing bowel contents and relieving constipation include increasing physical activity, exercising most days of the week, drinking fluids, eating fiber, and eliminating highly processed foods from the diet. This will support a better overall lifestyle and keep things moving, so to speak, which can help people feel better overall in recovery.
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