Although tapentadol and oxycodone both increase colonic volume, tapentadol treatment resulted in softer stools and less constipation: a mechanistic study in healthy volunteers.

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Opioids are often used in treatment of severe pain, although many patients experience gastrointestinal side-effects like constipation. The aim of the current study was to investigate changes in colonic volume, as the result of both colonic motility and fluid transport, in healthy volunteers during opioid treatment with tapentadol as compared with oxycodone and placebo.In a randomized, double-blind, cross-over study, 21 healthy male volunteers were administered equianalgesic dosages of oral tapentadol (50 mg bid), oxycodone (10 mg bid) or corresponding placebo for 14 days. Segmental colonic volumes were quantified using T2-weighted magnetic resonance images, and gastrointestinal side-effects were assessed with questionnaires.Total colonic volume increase during treatment was higher during tapentadol and oxycodone treatment (median 48 and 58 mL) compared to placebo (median -14 mL, both p≤0.003). Tapentadol (and placebo) treatment resulted in more bowel movements (both p<0.05) and softer stool consistency as compared with oxycodone (both p<0.01). Only oxycodone treatment was associated with increased constipation, straining during defecation, and tiredness (all p≤0.01). The colonic volume increase during treatment was directly associated with softer stools during tapentadol treatment (p=0.019).Tapentadol treatment increased colonic volume without leading to harder stools, likely as the opioid sparing effects result in less water absorption from the gut lumen. Oxycodone treatment also increased colonic volume, but with a simultaneous increase in stool dryness and gastrointestinal and central nervous system side-effects. The results confirm that tapentadol treatment may be advantageous to oxycodone regarding tolerability to pain treatment.

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Authors: Esben Bolvig Mark, Jens Brøndum Frøkjær, Tine Maria Hansen, Rasmus Bach Nedergaard, Asbjørn Mohr Drewes