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Prescription painkillers have long been used to get relief from moderate to severe pain. However, when used for a long duration, these painkillers have been associated with multiple problems. Some of these health hazards include addiction to the prescription painkiller, overdose of the medicine which can prove fatal, sleep apnea, mood swings, risk of fall especially in elderly people, changes in the levels of various hormones, etc. Now, researchers say that erectile dysfunction in later life can also be added to the long list of problems arising due to long term prescription painkiller abuse.
Researchers from the Kaiser Permanent Center for Health Research tried to find out if there is any association between long term opioid therapy and treatment for erectile dysfunction including testosterone replacement therapy. They analyzed the medical history of 11,327 men from Oregon and Washington who sought the help of their doctors for back ache in 2004. The researchers examined their treatment records for six months before and after the visit to the doctor to see if the patients had been prescribed opioid analgesics or medication for erectile dysfunction. The medication for erectile dysfunction included testosterone replacement.
The prescription painkiller use was classified under five groups
- None meant that the patients were never prescribed opioid analgesics for their back pain.
- Acute for patients who were prescribed prescription painkillers for duration of less than three months.
- Episodic meant that the patients used prescription painkillers for more than three months but less than four months. It also signified that the patients used less than 10 refills of the opioid analgesic.
- Long term use meant that patients took the prescription painkillers for either more than four months of less than three months but more than 10 refills.
- High dose usage was for the consumption of opioid analgesics in excess of 120 mg.
It was observed that when the patients took prescription painkillers in a high dose for at least four months, more than 19% of them had to take treatment for erectile dysfunction or testosterone replacement. Even consuming opioid analgesics in dose less than 120 mg for at least four months resulted in erectile dysfunction in around 12% patients. However, when no prescription painkiller was prescribed to the patients for their back pain, fewer than 7% required medication for erectile dysfunction or testosterone replacement.
The researchers also noted that elderly patients above the age of 60 to 69 years were almost 14 times at a higher risk of developing erectile dysfunction compared to patients from the younger age group of 18 to 29 years.
Although depression, other problems related to health, and use of benzodiazepines for treating insomnia can also lead to erectile dysfunction, researchers found that even after adjusting these confounding factors, long term prescription painkiller abuse is associated with erectile dysfunction in 50% of patients. The results of the study have been published in the journal Spine.