Each year, millions of Americans take analgesics to relieve pain. Most people take painkillers for only a short time but others use pain relievers for a long period, either to treat ongoing pain for a chronic medical condition or for recreational purposes. People who take opioid pain medications are at increased risk for hyperalgesia, a condition where analgesics actually create more pain than they relieve.
All drugs, including opioids, cause effects. Prescription and over-the-counter medications provide mostly therapeutic effects that help people recover from injuries and illnesses.
Like all drugs, opioids can also cause side effects that can produce unwanted results. Hyperalgesia is a potential side effect of all pain relievers, including opioids. Chronic use of opioid drugs, especially at high doses, increases the risk for side effects including hyperalgesia.
What Causes Hyperalgesia?
Long-term use of opioids, including OxyContin, codeine, heroin, and methadone, increases sensitivity to noxious stimuli. In other words, chronic opioid use makes the smallest bump, bruise, headache, or body pain seem much worse.
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Hyperalgesia comes about as part of an allergic or inflammatory response, where immune cells interact with the peripheral nervous system. Medical scientists do not fully understand the actual mechanisms behind hyperalgesia in humans but believe the hypersensitivity occurs because of damage to the peripheral nervous system, which are those nerves and ganglia that serve the body outside of brain and spinal cord.
Hyperalgesia usually develops in humans after chronic opioid use but laboratory animals show signs of the condition after even a single high dose of opioids. This means it is possible that humans also become hypersensitive to pain after a short course of this class of drugs.
Hyperalgesia impairs the quality of life for those who suffer from this condition, especially for people who are addicted or physically dependent on the drug responsible for the added pain. These individuals often feel trapped: they experience hyperalgesia when they take drugs but suffer intense withdrawals and cravings if they try to stop. No matter what the person does, he endures severe physical discomfort.
People who take opioids for a long time are usually confused when they develop pain for which the doctor can find no underlying cause. Frustrated and in pain, many who experience hyperalgesia request a stronger prescription from their physician, thinking they have merely grown tolerant to the effects of the drug. Unfortunately, stronger doses of the prescribed painkiller usually increase the pain of hyperalgesia.
Treatment for Hyperalgesia
Patients who suffer from hyperalgesia should discuss alternative pain control with a physician, and discuss options of a safe detoxification method. People who have taken opioids for a few months or longer may be physically dependent on these drugs and therefore suffer uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking opioids suddenly. These individuals may benefit from the Waismann Method Rapid Opiate detox, a process that can get the patient through the withdrawal safely and comfortably, and without the unnecessary suffering usually involved with other drug detoxification methods. Contact a physician or opioid dependence professional if you think that you or someone you love suffers from hyperalgesia.