Opioid Constipation Awareness

You may be wondering what does the third most watched event in TV history have to do with OIC? Well, it turns out that once the dust settled and the ratings were in, Super Bowl 50 drew the third largest audience on record in U.S. television history. For those advertisers who spent lavishly on prime time ads – such as one particular industry of note, pharma – in order to showcase their wares on national television, it would seem the often neglected medical condition known as OIC (Opioid-Induced Constipation) was a natural fit.

The U.S. Pain Foundation states that nearly 8 million people living with chronic pain and who take opioid medication as part of a pain management regime deal with opioid-induced constipation. To spread awareness, drug makers Astra Zeneca and Daiichi Sankyo spent millions on a Superbowl commercial – just for some perspective, an average Superbowl 30-second commercial spot costs approximately $5 million.

Read on for a deeper view on what OIC is about and learn about its symptoms.

What Exactly Is OIC?

According to PubMed Central® (PMC), one of the undesirable effects of taking opioids is on the gastrointestrinal (GI) tract. Opioid users often experience what is clinically known as opioid-induced bowel dysfunction – i.e. constipation. According to Medscape, constipation is the most common digestive complaint in the United States today and according to the U.S. Pain Foundation, occurring in between 2 percent and 20 percent of the population. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse says more than 4 million Americans have frequent constipation, accounting for 2.5 million physician visits a year. Chronic constipation affects at least half the people taking opioids regularly for pain management. Overall, Medscape asserts that OIC occurs in up to 85% of patients on long-term opioid therapy. If we consider total numbers of people using long-term opioid therapy, which amounts to approximately 5% of the U.S. population, then OIC poses a major public health concern. Meanwhile, drug maker AstraZeneca estimates “38 million people are prescribed opioids for chronic non-cancer pain and the literature suggests 40% up to as high as 80% of those patients suffer from OIC.” When you consider that as many as 8.2 million receive opioids for pain management for invasive cancer, the numbers of OIC sufferers are even more staggering.

Symptomatic Effects of OIC

As for the pathology and negative side effects of OIC, the U.S. Pain Foundation lists the following as common symptomatic effects of opioid-induced constipation:

  • Fewer than 3 bowel movements per week
  • Small, hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass
  • Straining, pressure and pain when defecating
  • An ongoing feeling of fullness/need to defecate/or obstruction
  • Bloating, distention, bulges in the abdomen
  • GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease (possibly)

If you happen to experience any of the aforementioned symptoms then you might be suffering from OIC. Though increasing your dietary fiber and fluid intake as well exercise and physical activity can help, it may not be possible for many patients. The U.S Pain Foundation states that if a person has constipation caused by opioids, the condition will continue as long as the person continues taking opioids.

Are Opioid Pain Medications Slowing You Down?

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U.S. Pain Foundation. Opioid Induced Constipation (OIC). Retrieved May 10, 2016

Variety. Super Bowl 50 Ratings: CBS Draws Third Largest Audience on Record. Retrieved May 10, 2016

Medscape.org. Recognition, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Opioid-Induced Constipation in Advanced Illness

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Digestive Diseases: Constipation. Retrieved May 10, 2016

90.0 WBUR Boston’s NPR® News Station. Mystery Solved: Why That ‘Opioid-Induced Constipation’ Super Bowl Ad?. Retrieved May 10, 2016



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