The scientists from the Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, California found out that long-term use of opioid analgesics for the treatment of chronic back pain increases the risk of erectile dysfunction. They conducted a comparative cross-sectional analysis of information from a medical center database. The database included information about the health status and prescriptions for more than 11 thousands of patients. The authors of the study claim that this is the first extensive study based on electronic medical records.
Previous studies showed that men with chronic back pain are at a higher risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED) which is associated with such negative factors as depression, smoking, old age, and hypogonadism (diminished production of sex hormones) caused by the use of opioid analgesics.
The paper published in the Spine says that we do not know much about the relationship between opioids prescribed for back pain and erectile dysfunction as well as about risk factors. 11.327 men living in Oregon and Washington visited doctors with complaints about back pain in 2004. The researchers analyzed medical information of those patients to find out whether they were prescribed opioid analgesics and medications for ED 6 months before and six months after their first visit to the doctor.
The results showed that nearly 20% of men taking high doses of opioids (more than 120 mg in a morphine equivalent) for at least four months were also prescribed testosterone replacement or medications for ED treatment. Only 12% of men took testosterone replacement or medications for ED treatment and opioids. Seven percent of men did not take opioids.
The authors of the research looked at other negative factors such as age (over 60 years old), diseases (other than back pain), and the use of sleeping pills. All these factors increase the risk of ED development but patients who also take high doses of opioids twice as likely needed ED therapy.
Richard A. Deyo, the lead investigator, says that this link between high doses of analgesics, duration of their use and ED is a reason to be more careful with prescriptions and disease management. Both patients and doctors should be aware of this effect of opioids.