5 Myths About Painkiller-Induced Constipation

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Susan Fishman, APC, CRC on March 1, 2022
  • Urge, bathroom, restroom, UTI, bladder
    The Truth Will Set Your Bowels Free
    Constipation is an unfortunate, but common, side effect of prescription opioid pain medications (opioids). But you may be surprised to learn some common misconceptions about how painkillers affect your digestive system and what you can (or can’t) do about it.
  • Prescription Drugs
    Myth No. 1: It’s one (discomfort) or the other.
    Constipation is one of the most common reasons patients avoid or abandon their painkillers and, as a result, suffer needlessly. But there are many steps you can take to help manage constipation while you continue taking your medication. These include making dietary changes and increasing your activity level with gentle exercises. Talk to your doctor about the best options for you.
  • woman in public bathroom
    Myth No. 2: You can’t do anything to prevent it.
    Because pain medications are a well-known constipation trigger, healthcare providers often recommend getting a jump on the potential blow to your bowels. This means taking self-care steps as soon as you start your medication, before constipation has a chance to set in.
  • psyllium-husks
    Myth No. 3: Fiber laxatives will take care of it.
    For regular old constipation, yes, over-the-counter fiber laxatives can be beneficial; they help bulk up the stool, which helps more water get to the intestines, making it easier for things to move through the system. But for those who take opioid pain medications, taking laxatives such as Metamucil or Citrucel may actually worsen constipation, especially if you are dehydrated or aren’t getting the nutrients you need in your diet.
  • pain
    Myth No. 4: I won’t get it if I’m only taking painkillers for acute flare-ups.
    Opioids may be prescribed for acute flare-ups of pain or for treatment of chronic (long-term) pain. And although long-term use of these medications increases the likelihood of developing constipation, either one can lead to it.
  • glasses-of-water
    Myth No. 5: It can’t get any worse.
    You may wonder, what could be worse than having constipation as a result of taking your pain medication? Having constipation that gets even worse. Dehydration is a major cause of constipation, and combined with the use of opioids, it can lead to substantial constipation. Be sure you are getting at least eight glasses of water or other non-caffeinated fluids per day and limiting your salt intake (unless your doctor has prescribed otherwise).
5 Myths About Painkiller-Induced Constipation

About The Author

Susan Fishman, APC, CRC is a veteran freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience in health education. She is also an Associate Professional Counselor and Clinical Rehabilitation Counselor, adding mental health and wellness to her area of expertise.

You can follow Susan’s work at http://www.writingbyfishman.com/ or https://twitter.com/@fishmanwriting on Twitter.
  1. Constipation Overview. Familydoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/constipation.html
  2. Definition and Facts for Constipation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/constipation/Pages/definition-facts.aspx
  3. Constipation. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_constipation
  4. Management of opioid-induced constipation. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11309211
  5. Self-care for Opioid Induced Constipation. Arthritis-Health. http://www.arthritis-health.com/treatment/medications/self-care-opioid-induced-constipation
  6. Coping with Constipation Caused by Opioid Medication. Arthritis Health. http://www.arthritis-health.com/treatment/medications/coping-constipation-caused-opioid-medication
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Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 1
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