Vivien Williams: How many opioid painkiller prescriptions are written in the US every year? More than 250 million. An estimated 4% of adults are being treated with opioids for chronic non-cancer pain, typically back pain and musculoskeletal pain.

Michael Camilleri, M.D. (Gastroenterology, Mayo Clinic): We know that about 40 to 80 percent of people who receive opioids develop G.I. symptoms, and the most common G.I. symptom is constipation.

Vivien Williams: Mayo Clinic Dr. Michael Camilleri says being constipated is not dangerous, but it can be very uncomfortable.

Michael Camilleri, M.D.: Sometimes that discomfort can be interpreted as abdominal pain.

Vivien Williams: Prompting people to increase their dose, making the situation worse.

Michael Camilleri, M.D.: The two main reasons why opioids cause constipation are, first, the opioid kind of paralyzes the nerves and muscles.

Vivien Williams: Second, they rev up your intestines to absorb excess liquid. So, what can you do about it? Eat fiber-rich foods, drink water and, if need be, try an over-the-counter laxative, even if you are prescribed opioids for a short period, like after an injury, fracture or operation. For severe cases, prescription medication may help.

Vivien Williams: Dr. Camilleri says the best remedy is to work with your health care provider to find alternatives to opioids. For the Mayo Clinic News Network, I'm Vivien Williams.

March 22, 2018