Management of opioid-induced bowel dysfunction in cancer patients

Support Care Cancer. 2004 Sep;12(9):613-8. doi: 10.1007/s00520-004-0649-7.


The gastrointestinal (GI) effects of morphine and other opioids may result in opioid-induced bowel dysfunction (OBD) and the need for treatment. Although OBD is very common in morphine-treated patients, it is usually under-diagnosed. Opioids deliver their GI effect through central and peripheral mechanisms. Laxatives are the pharmaceuticals prescribed most in this area. Prokinetics as well as cholinergic agonists have been used satisfactorily. One-third of patients with OBD have to be treated rectally. The use of opioid antagonists has been favored, but the bioavailability of oral forms is poor. Opioid antagonists with a quaternary structure have a high affinity for peripheral opioid receptors and therefore do not interfere with the analgesia, nor do they generate alkaloid withdrawal syndrome. Opioid rotation is another strategy for maintaining or improving analgesic quality directed toward decreasing the effects of previous opiates on the GI tract.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Cathartics / administration & dosage
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use
  • Constipation / chemically induced*
  • Constipation / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Pain / drug therapy*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Cathartics
  • Narcotic Antagonists