Pharmacological Treatment of Opioid-Induced Constipation Is Effective but Choice of Endpoints Affects the Therapeutic Gain
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Widespread opioid use has led to increase in opioid-related adverse effects like constipation. We examined the impact of study endpoints on reported treatment benefits.
Using MEDLINE, EMBASE, and ClinicalTrials.gov, we searched for randomized control trials targeting chronic opioid-induced constipation (OIC) and subjected them to meta-analysis. Data are given with 95% confidence intervals.
Thirty trials met our inclusion criteria. Combining all dichotomous definitions of responders, active drugs were consistently more effective than placebo, with an odds ratio (OR): 2.30 [2.01–2.63; 15 studies], independent of the underlying drug mechanism. The choice of endpoints significantly affected the therapeutic gain. When time from drug administration to defecation was used, the OR decreased from 4.74 [2.71–4.74] at 6 h or less to 2.46 [1.80–3.30] at 24 h (P < 0.05). Using other response definitions, the relative benefit over placebo was 2.10 [1.77–2.50; 12 studies] for weekly bowel frequency, 2.03 [1.39–2.95; 9 studies] for symptom scores, 2.21 [1.25–3.90; 4 studies] for global assessment scales, and 1.27 [0.79–2.03; 7 studies] for rescue laxative use.
While treatment of OIC with active drugs is more effective than placebo, the relative gain depends on the choice of endpoints. The commonly used time-dependent response definition is associated with the highest response rate but is of questionable relevance in a chronic disorder. The limited data do not clearly demonstrate a unique advantage of the peripherally restricted opioid antagonists, suggesting that treatment with often cheaper agents should be optimized before shifting to these novel expensive agents.
KeywordsOpioid-induced constipation Opioid antagonists Laxative use Naloxegol Methylnaltrexone
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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