Pain Meds for Dialysis: Consider the Risks

You pop a couple of pain pills before you show up for your dialysis appointment. You show up, wait in the lobby, and eventually make your way to a dialysis station. The medical team enters the room to prep you for treatment.

You try to relax as a nurse readies a sharp large-gauge needle connect the tubing needed for treatment. The opioid medication helps dull the pain, and you make it through another dialysis session.

Some dialysis treatments might happen with little to no pain, but it’s still pretty common to experience pain before, after or during treatment. And it’s why doctors frequently prescribe opioids to patients who require dialysis. But new research published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology suggests that opioid use may put dialysis patients at risk for other problems. In the study, researchers looked at medical records for about 141,000 dialysis patients.

They found that patients who regularly use opioids for pain management are:

  • 11 percent more likely to develop a mental health issue
  • 5 percent more likely to experience a fall, and
  • 3 percent more likely to break a bone and require an ER visit or hospitalization

Even when dialysis patients used a low-dose opioid prescription, these risk factors were still present, says lead researcher at the University of California Dr. Julie Ishida.

"Opioid use in patients receiving hemodialysis, even at lower dosing, is not without risk,” says Ishida. “The balance of risks and benefits in this population should be carefully considered.”

Taking opioids to treat pain associated with dialysis treatment? Ask your doctor about alternatives or reducing your dosage with the goal to wean yourself off of opioids. When your kidneys are in a state of total failure, you need dialysis treatment to remove excess fluids and toxins from your body to stay healthy. An estimated 64 percent of all dialysis patients take opioids for pain management, but maybe these drugs aren’t the best option considering the risks.

Pain management is just one thing you need to be mindful of when you’re on dialysis. Your diet is important too. Eating foods low in sodium, potassium, and phosphorus will also help you manage your health. And you’ll find a great selection of Dialysis-Friendly meals here.