Long-Term Use of Painkillers Linked to ED

Medically reviewed in January 2022

If you take prescription painkillers to treat chronic pain, take note: Long-term use of opioid drugs has been linked to erectile dysfunction (ED) and low testosterone, according to one study.

The price of pain relief?
The study, by researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon, looked at 11,000 with back pain. After the researchers adjusted for factors like age, lifestyle and depression, they found that men who took opioid pain medicines on a long-term basis (more than four months in most cases) were 50 percent more likely to take ED drugs or testosterone replacement, compared to men who didn’t take the painkillers. The longer men used painkillers and the higher the dosage, the more likely they were to take ED meds. Men who stopped taking their pain meds after a short period of time, however, noticed marked improvement in their ED.

Opioid pain medications—also called narcotics—include hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin or Percocet) and morphine. The researchers point to several possible explanations for the link. The drugs may suppress testosterone production or cause depression, both of which can lead to ED. On the other hand, it is possible that ED is related to the pain itself.

Know your treatment options
The jury may still be out on the painkiller-ED connection, but it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about all your treatment options if you experience chronic pain. The number of people taking opioid medicines to treat chronic pain is increasing rapidly, and the researchers say there’s growing evidence that they’re not effective in the long-term. Not to mention they're quite potent—and potentially addictive. Take a look at ways you can better control pain without pills, such as incorporating more exercise into your day, improving your diet and meditation

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