Opioids have been increasingly prescribed for chronic pain management over the past 10 years. These medications can have a serious impact on people’s health.
In a recent study, researchers from Newcastle University, UK found that commonly prescribed painkillers are linked to obesity and sleep deprivation if used for a long time.
Therefore, they need to be given for shorter periods of time to reduce the risk.
In the study, the researchers examined the cardio-metabolic health in more than 133,000 participants from the UK Biobank.
Cardio-metabolic health is the inter-relationship between metabolic and cardiovascular disease.
The researchers compared BMI, waist circumference and blood pressure between those taking painkillers for chronic pain and cardio-metabolic drugs and people who prescribed cardio-metabolic drug only.
Health conditions that can require painkillers include migraine, diabetic neuropathy, and chronic lower back pain.
The team found that drugs commonly used to treat pain, like gabapentinoids such as gabapentin, pregabilin and opiates, doubled the risk of obesity and were associated with poor sleep.
For example, people on painkillers and cardio-metabolic drugs reported 95% rates of obesity, 82% ‘very high’ waist circumference and 63% high blood pressure, as opposed to those on cardio-metabolic drugs only.
The team suggests that chronic pain medications should be prescribed for shorter periods of time to limit these serious health complications.
Patients can require continuous use of the drugs to feel normal and avoid symptoms of withdrawal.
Currently, opioids are recognized as being among the most dangerous prescription painkillers because they are addictive which can lead to them being abused.
Opioids are also known to worsen snoring and untreated sleep apnea, as well as causing problems with nocturnal high blood pressure.
The researchers suggest that there are several possible reasons why opioids are linked to strong weight gain and obesity.
One reason is that they can act as a sedative which makes patients less active and they have been shown to alter taste perception with a craving for sugar and sweet foods.
Dr Sophie Cassidy, a Research Associate at the Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University, is the lead author of the study. Dr. Kirstie Anderson is a co-author of the study.
The study is published in the academic journal, PLOS ONE.
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Source: PLOS ONE.