More opioids, more pain: Fueling the fire


For greater than a century, clinicians have seen a paradoxical phenomenon: sure sufferers who’re taking opioids (that are presupposed to numb ache) turn out to be extra delicate to ache than those that aren’t taking opioids.

The earliest statement of this phenomenon will be traced again to the British doctor Sir Clifford Allbutt, who, in 1870, described it: “at such instances I’ve actually felt it an ideal accountability to say that ache, which I do know is an evil, is much less injurious than morphia, which can be an evil. Does morphia are likely to encourage the very ache it pretends to alleviate?” Analysis research and medical observations through the years have recognized the phenomenon Dr. Allbutt seen as opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH).

What’s opioid-induced hyperalgesia?

Hyperalgesia is an elevated ache response from a stimulus (trigger) that often provokes a minor ache response. For instance, getting your blood drawn for lab testing often causes delicate discomfort, however this frequent medical process could be very painful for sure sufferers who’re taking opioids chronically. OIH is a lesser identified facet impact of long-term opioid remedy, however a critical one, and but another excuse docs ought to rigorously choose who could profit from prolonged use of those ache medicines.

What causes OIH?

The mechanism behind opioid-induced hyperalgesia is advanced and includes molecular and chemical adjustments within the mind and spinal twine. Opioids are likely to activate particular receptors that block painful indicators from reaching the mind. When these medicines are taken for lengthy durations of time, our our bodies (as a protection mechanism) attempt to overcome these blocked indicators by activating different ache indicators and pathways, a phenomenon often known as hypersensitization. These adjustments mirror the unimaginable skills of our brains to kind new connections and pathways and alter how the circuits are related in response to adjustments, often known as neuroplasticity. A optimistic instance of this may be the rehabilitation course of after a stroke: when somebody suffers a stroke on account of a clot or bleed within the mind and turns into unable to make use of their arm correctly, the mind will begin forming new connections in an try to beat this deficit, and with correct rehabilitation and coaching an individual could possibly use the arm usually once more.

Who’s vulnerable to growing OIH?

Ache notion is a really advanced course of. Many components have an effect on how the mind interprets ache indicators. Anxiousness, melancholy, genetics, medicines, our bodily well being, and different sicknesses can enhance or lower our feeling of ache. Simply as ache notion is particular person, the extent of hyperalgesia will not be the identical in all sufferers; some folks will expertise extra hyperalgesia based mostly on their genetics and private predisposition. Moreover, there isn’t a well-established interval of publicity after which OIH happens, and the precise timing of somebody growing OIH varies from patient-to-patient.

What we do know is that individuals who take opioids usually are at higher danger of growing OIH. Researchers have checked out many sufferers who had been taking opioids for lengthy durations of time and in contrast their ache tolerance or ache sensitivity to that of sufferers who weren’t taking opioids. Researchers additionally in contrast sufferers’ ache sensitivity earlier than and after beginning opioid remedy. In each circumstances they discovered that administration of opioids paradoxically elevated sensitivity to ache and made pre-existing ache worse, and better doses of opioids had been related to greater sensitivity to ache.

Recognizing and treating OIH

For those who or your physician aren’t conscious of this phenomenon, and you might be prescribed extra opioids to deal with elevated ache sensitivity, it might probably result in a vicious cycle of accelerating the dose of opioids and extra ache, in addition to an elevated danger of overdose. The suitable strategy to treating OIH is to wean slowly from a excessive dose of opioids, which often requires time and endurance. Throughout this time, it could be applicable so as to add non-opioid options to managing ache, reminiscent of different medicines, injections, behavioral interventions, and bodily remedy. You physician may additionally suggest avoiding opioids altogether, or taking an “opioid vacation” so your physique can recuperate. Working intently along with your healthcare staff is essential, as is managing your ache throughout a weaning interval. There are CDC pointers obtainable to assist your physician safely taper your dose.

Traditionally, opioids had been used to deal with ache attributable to end-stage superior most cancers, or for acute ache (after surgical procedure, a bone fracture, a critical accident, and so on.), and just for a brief time period (just a few days), to cut back the chance of negative effects. Sadly, there was a drastic enhance in the usage of opioids in the US over the past twenty years for the therapy of persistent non-cancer ache (again ache, arthritis, and so on.), and a few folks have taken opioids for longer than medically vital for his or her kind of ache.

Whereas opioids positively have their place in medical observe, we’d like to concentrate on the intense negative effects of those medicines, together with negative effects that will trigger extra struggling, like OIH, in addition to deadly negative effects reminiscent of overdose. For those who suppose you or a liked one could also be experiencing OIH, it’s best to focus on this with you physician, and work with them to taper your dose and discover options to handle your ache safely.


A Complete Evaluation of Opioid-Induced Hyperalgesia. Ache Doctor, March/April 2011.

Opioid-induced Hyperalgesia: A Qualitative Systematic Evaluation. Anesthesiology, March 2006.

Opioid Induced Hyperalgesia. Ache Drugs, October 2015.


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