Unintended Consequences of Long-term Prescription Opioid Use for Joint Pain

As you age, your risk of suffering joint pain increases. If left untreated, this common ailment can negatively impact your mobility, mood, and lifestyle.

When joint pain strikes, many people’s first instinct is to head to their trusted physician as soon as possible. Increasingly, doctors are prescribing prescription opioids for acute pain including joint pain.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescriptions for opioids skyrocketed from 76 million globally in 1991 to almost 207 million in 2013. While these powerful drugs, derived naturally or synthetically from the opium poppy, might provide a short-term fix to joint woes, long-term usage may increase your risk for developing a plethora of serious, medical issues.

Weakened Immune System

Long-term use of prescription opioids can lead to immunosuppression, or weakening of your immune system. Opioid administration has inhibitory effects on both cellular and humoral immune responses such as cytokine expression, antibody production, natural killer cell activity, and phagocytic activity. Performing like cytokines, opiates modulate the immune response by interacting with the receptors in the central nervous system and in the periphery. The immunosuppression associated with prolonged opioid use makes individuals more susceptible to infections and cancer.

Hormonal Imbalances

Besides causing immunosuppression, chronic opioid therapy can adversely affect the endocrine system resulting in hormonal changes in both women and men. In women, opioids can both reduce levels of estrogen in the body and lead to low follicle-stimulating hormone. Opioids tend to increase prolactin in females. These affects can cause osteoporosis and light or infrequent periods. In males, opioid use is associated with a decrease in the production of sex hormones, especially testosterone. Men dependent on opioids sometimes experience erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, hot flashes, and fatigue.

Hyperalgesia

Opioid-induced hyperalgesia, an increasing sensitivity to pain, can result from long-term opioid use. Extreme, acute pain sometimes occurs after patients utilizing opioids undergo surgery.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Several bothersome gastrointestinal symptoms fall under the umbrella of opioid-induced bowel dysfunction. Some of the more prevalent ones are abdominal cramping, stomach bloating, abdominal spasms, and constipation. Prescription opioid users often can’t manage their constipation symptoms with over-the-counter remedies such as laxatives or stool softeners.

Dangerous Dependence

If you take opioids for an extended period of time, the risk of becoming addicted to them is high. These popular drugs both release pleasurable chemicals and activate the reward system in your brain. Because your brain is wired to seek out pleasurable actions, subconscious cravings for more and more opioids are not uncommon. Your brain sees opioid usage as an event that needs to be repeated.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports overdose fatalities due to prescription opioid pain killers has more than tripled in the past 20 years. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, more than a third of reported drug-overdose deaths in 2013 were the result of pharmaceutical opioids.

Natural Remedies: A Better Solution

The physical side effects of prolonged opioid treatment range from mild to serious. Depending on the severity, opioid addiction can be fatal. While the United States struggles to cope with the ever increasing opioid epidemic, the time is now to look for alternative, effective treatments for bothersome joint pain.

Exercising regularly and taking supplements are two of the most popular natural remedies for stubborn joint pain. If you’re suffering from osteoarthritis, you might think the last thing you need to do is work out. Surprisingly, according to the Arthritis Foundation, exercise is believed to be the most effective non-drug treatment for improving movement and minimizing pain in those battling osteoarthritis. Gentle stretching, walking, swimming, and bicycling are recommended forms of exercise for joint pain sufferers.

Boswellia serrate, also known as Indian frankincense, fish oil, and turmeric are prevalent supplements believed to be able to relieve joint pain. Boswellia serrate possesses both anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. It might help prevent cartilage loss while inhibiting the autoimmune process.

Fish oil consists of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These beneficial acids thwart inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins. Once this process occurs, your body converts EPA and DHA into anti-inflammatory chemicals known as resolvins.

Turmeric contains the chemical curcumin that may lessen joint pain and swelling by blocking inflammatory enzymes and cytokines.

If joint pain is preventing you from enjoying the active lifestyle you desire, you might assume you’ll need to take prescription opioids for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, relying on these drugs long-term may cause your body more harm than good. Give alternative remedies a try. With a little trial and error, you might find the perfect natural solution to your joint pain dilemma.

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