For minor pain management, such as headaches and muscle aches, it is usually sufficient to take an over the counter pain reliever to get rid of the symptoms. Unfortunately for more severe conditions, your physician might recommend a stronger medication which is usually opioid medication.

Opiates work by binding themselves to opiate receptors that we have in our brain and other parts of the nervous system like the spinal cord. When attached to the receptors, they reduce the intensity of pain messages that are being sent to the brain, thereby reducing symptoms that are associated with pain.

An opiate is a type of narcotic pain medication and its improper use can cause very serious side effects which is why its use is regulated and controlled. Some of these potentially serious side effects include:

  • Nausea – about 25% of patients that are taking opiates will experiences nausea that will fade over time as you get used to the drug.
  • Itching – a small percentage of opiate users will find themselves having like an allergic reaction to the drug and feeling itchy all the time. The widespread itchiness can be bothersome, but it is not dangerous.
  • Drowsiness – people who are taking opiates have a general feeling of sleepiness which is why it is discouraged for people who in certain professions to take the drug during work hours as this may put them and others in danger. This however will fade away as you get used to the drug and will often be felt when you begin taking opiates or when you increase your dosage.
  • Constipation – almost all patients taking opiates will experience some constipation. Unfortunately, opiates affect the gut as it works on your pain receptors. Patients are commonly advised to use laxatives or stool softeners when they begin their treatment with opiates to facilitate smooth bowl movement.
  • Confusion – the use of opiates will affect one’s cognitive capabilities because of its direct effect on your nervous system. Patients will feel a bit foggy headed when they begin treatment and when the dosage is increased.
  • Slow respiration – it is unusual but there are patients who experience respiratory depression while they are on opiates. This is a result of the operation of the drug on the respiratory centers of the nervous system.
  • Sexual performance – opiates can lower testosterone levels which can cause erectile dysfunction in men and can result in difficulty reaching orgasm for both male and female.
  • Addiction – opiates are highly addictive medications and it is not surprising to find those who are at high risk of addiction to fall into the trap. It is important for physicians to identify if their patient has any of these risk factors before recommending opiate treatment.
  • Overdose – over time the body develops a tolerance for opiates and patients who wish to achieve the same level of pain relief and euphoria will have a tendency to increase the dosage. Taking in more than the prescribed amount will result to the accumulation of the drug in your body and as it reaches toxic levels, it can cause slowed breathing and heartbeat, seizures, and dizziness which can be fatal.

Opioids have long been used for the treatment of moderate to severe pain simply because of its effectiveness. However, before starting treatment, patients should be aware of the possibly danger that accompanies taking opiates. Opiates should be taken solely for the purpose of therapy and you should take extreme care and caution to take it safely and to follow your physician’s instructions.