A recent study brings to light a lesser-known danger of opioids: their potential impact on heart health.
This research, led by Minhee Sung, an instructor at Yale University School of Medicine, delves into the cardiovascular consequences of prescribed opioids.
Opioids are commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain, including chronic pain, a condition affecting over 50 million Americans. This is particularly prevalent among older adults, with 60 to 75% of those 65 and older experiencing chronic pain.
“Chronic pain is a major issue for older adults,” says Sung, highlighting the widespread use of opioids in this group, which already has a higher risk of heart problems.
Sung and her team analyzed data from the Veterans Aging Cohort Study (VACS), focusing on around 50,000 patients, 30% of whom received prescribed opioids over three years.
Their findings were concerning: those prescribed opioids had a significantly higher likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). Moreover, the risk of CVD increased with higher opioid doses.
“This is a crucial issue for many Americans,” notes Sung. “So many older patients experience chronic pain and are prescribed opioids, while also being at risk for heart disease.”
The study examined patients on both short-term (less than 90 days) and long-term (90 days or more) opioid treatments.
- Jennifer Edelman, the study’s senior author, emphasizes the need for further research to understand how long-term opioid use influences the risk of heart disease and the underlying mechanisms of these risks.
This research comes at a time when the harms of opioid addiction and overdose are well-recognized, prompting caution in prescribing these drugs.
However, Sung warns against the abrupt discontinuation of opioids, given the lack of alternative pain management options.
She points out that suddenly stopping opioid prescriptions can lead to significant psychological stress and even increase the risk of suicide.
Sung advises older patients, those with diabetes, or anyone with risk factors for heart disease, to discuss their pain management plans with their healthcare providers.
She suggests exploring non-drug treatments like physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic pain.
This study adds a new layer to our understanding of the risks associated with opioid use, especially for those with chronic pain.
It underscores the importance of carefully considering the benefits and risks of opioid therapy, especially for those at risk of cardiovascular disease.
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The research findings can be found in the Journal of Pain.
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