People who take strong painkillers to manage chronic pain could be putting themselves at risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and strokes.
A Newcastle University study has highlighted a “clear association” between taking opioid painkillers and poor cardiometabolic health (the inter-related health of the metabolism, heart and blood vessels).
Opioids are available as over-the-counter painkillers like codeine as well as prescription medications like Tramadol, the painkiller which Ant McPartlin recently admitted struggling with an addiction to.
They are often prescribed for long-term, hard-to-treat pains such as migraines and chronic lower back pain. But Newcastle researchers, publishing in academic journal PLOS ONE, say they may be having a serious impact on health.
While the potential for addiction to these drugs is fairly well known, lead author Dr Sophie Cassidy, of Newcastle University, says the new study is the largest to consider the broader impact of the drugs on patients’ lifestyles and cardiometabolic health, which is often overlooked.
The study, which examined the health of more than 133,000 taking painkillers of this kind, compared to those taking other sorts of drugs, showed those taking opioids were more likely to be obese, to suffer from hypertension, and to sleep poorly.
Dr Cassidy said: “There is a clear problem, the prescription rate has doubled, and the cario-metabolic health of these patients has not been good at all.
“These patients are much less active, they are sitting for much longer periods of the day and they sleep worse.”
According to Dr Cassidy, it isn’t entirely clear what the link between the painkillers and poor heart and metabolic health is – but the strong association should be a cause for concern among medics.
She said: “The nature of the study is that we can’t prove causation but it shows a clear association, the next step is to find out what is coming first: are these patients ill, which is why they’re on medication, and therefore they’re less active and sleep worse, or is it a two-way thing? These drugs may be impacting on sleep, we know there a physiological mechanisms by which they affect sleep.”
Dr Cassidy says the strong association between poor sleep and obesity and poor cardiometabolic health might be part of the reason why people taking opioids are more likely to be obese.
The drugs are increasingly controversial: in the last decade, the number prescribed has doubled, but they are known to cause sleep disorders, daytime sedation and accidental overdose.
In 2016, 24 million prescriptions for these sorts of drugs were issued in the UK, double the amount in 2006. Two years ago, 11,000 patients were admitted to hospital due to an opiate overdose.
Co-author of the study Dr Kirstie Anderson, who is an honorary senior lecturer at Newcastle University and consultant neurologist ays the findings highlight the risks of overusing strong painkillers.
She said: “There has been recent concern about the addictive nature of opioids and a large number of side-effects, including worsening overnight breathing and therefore disturbing sleep.
“Few studies have looked at the impact of these drugs on metabolism. Our study is the largest of its kind to look at this group of drugs and show an association between obesity and poor sleep.
“Further studies are need to understand how the drugs may affect metabolism over time.”
Source : Chroniclelive