Harvard Health Letter

Pain relief, opioids, and constipation

Controlling pain is an important part of modern medicine, and opioid drugs do a great job of it, but constipation is a side effect.

An 87-year-old man with well-managed heart failure, an enlarged prostate gland, and poor eyesight got up in the middle of the night to open the curtains. He tripped over a space heater and wrenched his already-bad back. He was prescribed a strong pain reliever, Vicodin, which is a combination of a drug chemically related to morphine and acetaminophen. Several days later, writhing in pain from constipation, he was taken by ambulance to the emergency room and admitted to the hospital.

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