Codeine Side Effects

  • Generic Name or Active Ingridient: Codeine

Some people, when taking codeine, may experience mild to severe symptoms that can depend on a number of factors. Sometimes, it has to do with the dosage or whether codeine is interacting with another substance. For others, it depends on their individual chemistry. Many people experience very mild symptoms that pass quickly once the body becomes used to the presence of medication.

Codeine is a narcotic medication that is a naturally occurring alkaloid found in the opium poppy plant. It can also be synthesized from morphine. It is prescribed for pain relief, cough suppression, and to a lesser degree, diarrhea. It is often combined with other ingredients such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, two non-narcotic analgesics that boost the effectiveness of codeine.

Codeine is a milder opiate when compared to others such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. It has less of a potential for abuse and addiction. But these are still concerns. Taking any narcotic medication for a prolonged period can result in habituation. Opiate dependence and addiction are very serious problems in this country, so it's always important to take these medications as prescribed.

Codeine side effects that are more common include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nervousness/Anxiety
  • Excitability
  • Weakness
  • Inability to sleep

These less common side effects can be more serious and may require emergency assistance. Call 911 if any of these develop:

  • Severe allergic reaction (rash, hives, swelling of face, lips, tongue or throat)
  • Difficult breathing
  • Chest tightening
  • Difficult urination
  • Irregular heart beat (fast or slow)
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Severe dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Tremors
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Severe headaches

Side effects can also vary depending on whether the codeine is mixed with another medication and depending on the dosage. The above list is not a complete list of possible side effects. Talk to your doctor if you develop other symptoms that don't appear in this list.

Codeine Gastrointestinal Effects

Taking opiate medications can have many unpleasant side effects, especially if they are taken over a long period of time. Codeine is a narcotic analgesic that is used for mild to moderate pain and cough suppression. Side effects vary from person to person and can be mild.

Codeine is typically prescribed to treat mild to moderate pain. It is sometimes combined with other drugs, such as acetaminophen, to treat a cough that is dry. Long term use or abuse of codeine in any form can lead to gastrointestinal damage.

Gastrointestinal effects of opiates such as codeine can include:

  • Constipation, which can be chronic
  • Impaction
  • Indigestion
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Inflammation of the stomach
  • Ulcers
  • Abdominal bloating

The constipating effects of opiates are perhaps the most well known side effects people complain about. This happens because opiates such as codeine slow the movement and elimination of waste. Patients should speak with their doctors when codeine therapy begins. He or she can advise you on the best way to prevent the problem or treat it if it develops.

Constipation can be mildly irritating and may respond well to diet and lifestyle changes. Some people need more progressive therapy, which can include laxatives, suppositories, enemas or more invasive procedures.

Other Possible Codeine Risks

Patients and doctors should weigh the benefits and risks of codeine before therapy begins. Oftentimes, the risk of mild side effects is trumped by the benefit they receive from taking it (pain relief).

No matter what, patients need to be careful when taking opiates. This is because they can lead to far greater problems if used over a prolonged period or abused. These include opiate tolerance, dependence, hyperalgesia, sexual problems, opiate addiction and overdose. Speak with your doctor about all of your concerns before taking codeine or other opiates. They can be taken safely, but certain risks are possible.

Codeine Induced Constipation

There is a risk of developing constipation when taking any opiate medication. This is especially true for folks who are on long-term opiate therapy. Codeine is an opiate prescribed most often for mild to moderate pain. Its other uses include treatment of a cough and diarrhea.

Codeine is an opiate alkaloid found in the resin of the opium poppy plant. It binds to opiate receptors in the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract. This blocks the perception of pain and these medications tend to be very effective in this capacity.

One drawback of codeine use is its ability to cause constipation, which can be severe. This can be an uncomfortable and annoying problem, but it can also turn serious, leading to bowel blockages. The time to address the issue of constipation is when the medication is prescribed. Ask your doctor for advice on prevention.

Treatment for codeine-induced constipation can include medication and lifestyle changes. There are some simple dietary and lifestyle changes that can help patients to avoid constipation and boost overall health. These include:

  • Drinking plenty of liquids, especially water.
  • Increasing fiber intake.
  • Staying active and physically fit.

Going to the bathroom is a private experience that can cause great anxiety for patients who are constipated. It's important to try to relax, take deep breaths and set aside enough time if you feel the urge to go. Anxiety and tension can make the problem worse, as can straining.

The above changes may be enough for some people to avoid or get rid of constipation. Others need more aggressive treatment with laxatives and/or other medications. This approach is favored by most doctors instead of discontinuing opiate therapy. This is because a return to pain can have a devastating impact on quality of life.

Laxatives and medications called cathartics can be administered for those with constipation. Laxatives soften the stool and make it easier for patients to evacuate their bowels. Cathartics accelerate the defecation process. If none of the treatments are effective, doctors may suggest the use of suppositories, enemas or colonic irrigation.

Codeine Central Nervous System Effects

Codeine is a narcotic analgesic that is used for the control of mild to moderate pain. It also has secondary effects that include constipation and depressed respiratory function. It is a natural alkaloid of the opium poppy plant.

Opiates interfere with nerve transmission in sensory pathways in the brain and body that signal pain. This is why they are prized for their ability to control pain. In addition, codeine can be used in cough medicine and to control diarrhea.

The body's central nervous system is depressed by opiates, resulting in pain relief and slowed breathing. The central nervous system controls our ability to breath. It also keeps our hearts beating.

This means that codeine's depressant effect on the central nervous system can cause body functions such as heart rate and respiration to slow down. In the case of a codeine overdose, the heart and respiration can stop, leading to death.

Codeine Warnings That Involve CNS Depression

One of the strongest warnings associated with opiates such as codeine is that it can be deadly when mixed with other substances that depress the central nervous system. People who use or abuse codeine in conjunction with alcohol, other narcotics, sedatives, hypnotics and muscle relaxers put themselves at great risk.

We've all heard about people - friends, family, celebrities and athletes - who died after combining opiates with these other substances. It makes for a lethal combination and people who take these substances together are essentially playing Russian roulette with their lives.

Use that follows the guidelines of a prescription can be completely safe and effective, but any type of misuse can lead to codeine dependence and addiction. Opiate addiction is recognized as a central nervous system disorder caused by the continual intake of opiates.

Misuse of codeine can quickly lead to opiate dependence and addiction. These medications can be very difficult to stop taking without help from a professional program. Codeine detox and rehab centers have been established throughout the country to help with this escalating problem. Patients must be safely detoxed to minimize the risks of codeine withdrawal and to help them move forward with a continued recovery program.

Codeine Induced Tolerance

When taking any opiate medication, it's possible that your body may develop a tolerance to it. A codeine tolerance occurs when a person takes an established dose of this prescription medication on a regular basis. The body becomes used to the presence of the drug in the system.

Many people use codeine on a short-term basis so tolerance is not usually an issue. This medication is often prescribed for mild to moderate pain. Other possible uses include the treatment of cough and diarrhea. It is considered relatively mild but is still a narcotic. This means that it can cause problems with dependence and addiction if taken in high dosages, for a prolonged period or if it's misused or abused in any way.

An increasing tolerance can be problematic because it requires increasingly higher dosages of the drug to provide the same effects. An escalation of codeine use can lead to further problems, so it's best to speak with a doctor before you begin taking more codeine than you're supposed to.

A codeine tolerance will diminish if use is stopped. This presents a problem for some people, especially those who abuse the drug. Some people who engage in codeine abuse develop a tolerance and take breaks from the drug so that the tolerance drops. This can present a problem with codeine overdose if tolerance drops and people return to using a dosage that has become too high for them.

If you are taking codeine and find that your level of pain relief or cough suppression has diminished, you may have developed a tolerance. The best option at this point is to speak with your doctor. He or she may decide to alter the dose or switch medications altogether to keep you safe. The worst thing you can do is to increase your dosage or use without talking to the doctor first.

Codeine Induced Hyperalgesia

The very medications you use to fight pain can have a puzzling effect for some people. Codeine induced hyperalgesia is the paradoxical increase in pain that occurs for some people while they are on opiate therapy. The exact reasons for this are not clearly understood. No one is sure why this occurs for some people but not for others.

Opiates such as codeine are used by millions of people, primarily for pain relief. Codeine treats mild to moderate pain but can also be prescribed for cough and diarrhea relief. Codeine hyperalgesia causes a heightened sensitivity to pain. This condition usually occurs when an increased use of medications leads to a reduced tolerance for pain and an increased sensitivity to discomfort.

This phenomenon can be tricky to manage because the reduction in a patient's pain threshold may lead doctors and patients in the wrong direction. The first inclination might be to treat inadequate pain relief from opiates with more opiates. Or higher dosages. This can be risky and lead to other problems.

Doctors should consider the possibility of hyperalgesia if patients are experiencing more pain during therapy. If you suspect this is what's going on, it might be best to make an appointment with someone who specializes in pain management. He or she may be able to get to the bottom of your issues and find out if hyperalgesia is to blame.

Managing Hyperalgesia Can Be Challenging But There Are Options

If hyperalgesia is determined to be the culprit, doctors may choose to switch medications altogether or change dosages. It may sound counterintuitive to reduce a dosage of opiates if a person isn't experiencing adequate relief, but some experts say this is just what's needed. A doctor may also want to prescribe a different medication that has less of a risk for this, including a non-narcotic medication.

Continued and increasing use of codeine or other opiates can lead to dependence, addiction and overdose. People who find themselves in a pattern of increased codeine use should speak with a doctor as soon as possible about solutions.

Codeine Induced Neurotoxicity

Some people who take codeine or other opioids may experience the development of a condition called opioid-induced neurotoxicity. It is more common among elderly frail patients, those with certain conditions and those facing the end of life. This condition can develop with administration of any opioid, but is more common with opioids that contain active metabolites (codeine, morphine, meperidine).

It can also develop among people who are suffering with a decline in kidney function, dehydration and those who have rapid escalation of opioid treatment.

What Exactly Is Codeine Induced Neurotoxicity?

Symptoms of this syndrome can include:

  • Mild confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Decreased levels of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Worsening of pain
  • Muscle twitching

Codeine induced neurotoxicity usually sets in within a few days to a week after the first dose is given. It can also begin once a patient reaches a codeine dosage that causes metabolites to build up. Folks with certain risk factors can still be treated with opioids, but it's suggested that those with no active metabolites be used because they will generally be better tolerated.

People who have had opioids in their system for a few weeks usually don't develop this syndrome unless it was precipitated by a drug interaction, infection or dehydration. These factors, in addition to adding medications that depress the central nervous system, could lead to this neurotoxicity among some people.

What Can Be Done To Lessen The Risks For This Syndrome?

Codeine and other opioids are indicated for the management of pain. They are commonly used by people with progressive illness and breathing troubles prior to death. People who have risk factors for opioid induced neurotoxicity should be assessed before beginning opioid therapy, as doctors may choose a more appropriate pain medication.

Treatment for this syndrome can depend on the cause. This can include the rotation of opioids to reduce risks and manage pain and treatment for dehydration or other contributing problems. Families of loved ones who are very ill should be aware of the risks of taking opioids so they can make necessary decisions when they arise. It may be best to speak with a doctor before choosing opiate therapy for these compromised folks.

Codeine Induced Nausea And Drowsiness

There are many people who are sensitive to the effects of narcotic medication such as codeine. Many of them experience side effects such as nausea and drowsiness, but these may subside quickly. Codeine is an opiate medication that is prescribed for mild to moderate pain or to treat an unproductive cough. It may also be used to quell diarrhea.

The body may respond to early codeine therapy by developing nausea, vomiting, cramps, drowsiness, lightheadedness and other symptoms. Once the body becomes used to this drug, codeine side effects, for many people, will subside. The way in which a person experiences side effects depends on several factors, including the dosage, the route of administration, the person's opiate tolerance (or lack thereof) and the individual's body chemistry.

Things You Can Do To Reduce Codeine Induced Nausea

Codeine-related nausea is said to be less frequent and less intense than more powerful opiates such as morphine. But some people report feeling very ill when codeine therapy first begins. Taking codeine on an empty stomach can mean faster absorption, so the effects will "hit" the patient harder. These steps can help to lessen the nauseating feelings:

  • Eat Before Taking Codeine
  • Avoid a lot of movement
  • Lay down
  • Try taking some deep breaths
  • A glass of water may help

It's important that you talk to a doctor before taking anything to combat nausea. There are certain drugs and other substances that can interact with codeine. If the problem persists, you may want to speak with your doctor about changing the dosage or medication.

Codeine Related Drowsiness

People often report feelings of drowsiness and sedation while taking opiates. This can become problematic if you engage in activities that put you or others at risk. This can include driving, operating heavy machinery or doing anything that could be dangerous if you become sleepy.

Codeine and other opiates suppress the central nervous system. Other substances that have this effect can exacerbate the effects of codeine if they're mixed. These include alcohol, other narcotics and sedatives. Any of these substances could really increase the sleepy effect of codeine.

Extreme drowsiness can be a sign of codeine overdose so it's important to seek help if it persists or is combined with other bothersome side effects. Exceeding the recommended dosage of codeine can also lead to problems with drowsiness.

Codeine Induced Sexual Dysfunction

Use of codeine or other opiates, especially over a long period of time, can lead to sexual dysfunction in both men and women. These secondary effects are among the many that can develop from the use of any prescription medication.

Codeine is a narcotic medication, available by prescription, to treat mild to moderate pain and a dry cough. It can be taken safely and effectively, but risks increase with longer therapy or misuse and abuse. The bottom line is that codeine should always be taken as directed to minimize the risks.

The most commonly reported sexual side effects of codeine are decreased libido and male erectile dysfunction. These issues could develop years down the road and some patients and doctors may not even connect opiate use with this outcome.

A lack of sexual desire can affect people in very serious ways. Likewise, erectile dysfunction, or the inability to develop or maintain an erection, can be devastating to a man. These issues often prompt patients to seek out further treatment and more medications may be prescribed to combat them.

There are a number of medical reasons why these issues can develop, so it's best to get a full, medical checkup to rule out more serious causes. The issue of sexual dysfunction is a complex one and can be caused by a variety of physical and psychological issues, medication and sometimes, environmental factors.

Lack of sexual interest may be caused by the "dulling" effect of codeine. Some people report a return to interest and activity once codeine therapy is discontinued. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about sex while taking codeine.

Other Codeine Side Effects You Should Be Aware Of

Sexual problems are especially common among those people who engage in opiate abuse. Taking these drugs in large quantities, over a long period of time, can have devastating effects on health. Sexual side effects are among the many risks you take when using codeine. Others can include constipation, gastrointestinal damage, hyperalgesia (increased pain), tolerance, dependence, opiate addiction and overdose.

Codeine Dependence And Addiction May Require Detox

Increasing dosages of opiates can lead to physical dependence. This means that your body will demand the presence of the drug or it will go into codeine withdrawal. This can be painful and dangerous and may result in the need for professional opiate treatment. If psychological dependence is present as well, this is an indication that you have developed codeine addiction.

A codeine problem can be remedied with the right help. Many people find they can't do it on their own because opiate withdrawal makes them very sick and uncomfortable. Professional codeine detox can help you to recover, many times rather quickly. If you are experiencing problems while taking codeine, reach out to a trusted doctor to discuss options.