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Oncology (Williston Park). 2001 Jan;15(1):61-73, 77; discussion 77-8, 80-2.

Current management of opioid-related side effects.

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Pain and Palliative Care Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York, USA.


The optimal management of opioid-related side effects is hampered by a lack of comparative studies of management strategies. The prevalence of such side effects is influenced by the extent of disease, the patient's age, the presence of coexistent renal and hepatic disease, pulmonary disease, and cognitive dysfunction, a prior opioid history, use of polypharmacy, dose of opioid drug being administered, and the route of administration. The most common opioid-related side effects are constipation, sedation, nausea, vomiting, and cognitive disturbance. Less frequent side effects include urinary retention, perceptual distortion, respiratory depression, and myoclonus. In an era emphasizing quality of life in cancer care, clinicians need to be aware of (1) factors that influence the prevalence of opioid-related side effects, (2) effective management strategies, and (3) how to recognize when symptoms are opioid related as opposed to caused by other etiologies, such as the patient's disease process or treatment approaches. The use of validated instruments and repeated assessment enhances such an evaluation and subsequent treatment. This article delineates the current optimal management of opioid-related nausea and vomiting, constipation, cognitive side effects, myoclonus, and respiratory depression.

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