Clinical Markers of Crohn’s Disease Severity and Their Association With Opiate Use

Mary Cheung, Sundas Khan, Meredith Akerman, Chun Kit Hung, Kaitlyn Vennard, Nicholas Hristis, Keith Sultan


Background: The safety of opiate use for patients with Crohn’s disease (CD) has long been a concern. The recent Crohn’s therapy, resource, evaluation, and assessment tool (TREAT) registry update has added to these concerns by demonstrating an association of opiate use with an increased risk of infection and death in CD. While the association is clear, the relationship of opiates to these negative outcomes is not. It is unknown whether opiates are a contributing factor to these negative outcomes or if their use is merely a marker of more severe disease. We hypothesized that opiate use is not harmful in CD but is a marker of disease severity and would be associated with commonly accepted clinical markers of severe CD such as early age at CD onset, disease duration, small intestinal involvement, a history of fistula or stricture, and lower quality of life (QOL) scores.

Methods: Data on CD history including pain medication usage were obtained from an interviewer directed survey of patients admitted to two tertiary care hospitals over a 2-year period. CD as the primary admitting diagnosis was not required. Active opiate use was defined by usage within the past month prior to admission.

Results: A total of 133 patients were approached to participate, of whom 108 consented to the survey, and 51 were active opiate users. Opiate using CD patients were more commonly smokers (22% vs. 3.45%, P < 0.010), had fistulas (40% vs. 22.4%, P < 0.048) and had a poorer quality of life score by short form inflammatory bowel disease questionnaire (mean 3.80 vs. 4.34, P < 0.036) than non-opiate users. No difference was found between opiate users and non-users for age of diagnosis, disease duration, or a history of strictures.

Conclusions: The study findings demonstrate that opiate use in CD is associated with markers of disease severity including fistulas, smoking, and lower QOL scores. The findings suggest that opiates may not be directly harmful to patients with CD, but may merely be another marker of disease severity. However, given opiates unproven benefits for long term CD pain control and risk of dependence, caution should still be exercised in their use.

J Clin Med Res. 2015;7(1):33-36


Crohn’s disease; Opiates; Fistulas; Smoking; Inflammatory bowel disease

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