Patients who undergo bariatric surgery use more painkillers afterwards, study shows

While some people undergoing bariatric surgery might hope it will provide relief from chronic pain, it appears that many patients actually increase their use of opioid painkillers in the years after the procedure, MedPage Today reported.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers studied data on 11,719 adults who had undergone bariatric surgery between 2005 and 2009.

Lead study author Marsha A. Raebel, of Kaiser Permanante Colorado in Denver, and her fellow researchers discovered that 77 percent of people taking painkillers before surgery continued to use them afterwards.  And patients’ daily intake of morphine equivalents increased 13 percent in the first year after surgery and 18 percent three years after surgery.

"These findings suggest the need for proactive management of chronic pain in these patients after surgery," said the study’s authors.

However, these results were not entirely unexpected.

While weight-loss surgery might improve chronic pain problems, but it may not eliminate them, according to Dr. Daniel P. Alford, an opioid dependence and chronic pain management expert at Boston Medical Center, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

Increases in the usage of morphine equivalents over time typically occur in the general population as well, according to Alford.
"Although Raebel et al. are correct in reporting that better pain management strategies are needed, they also may have uncovered an equally important problem -- the need to know if, when, and how to safely and effectively taper or discontinue opioid therapy for patients with chronic pain," Alford said in his paper.

Click for more from MedPage Today.