Dihydrocodeine is commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain in adults, normally when a milder over-the-counter painkiller has failed to provide adequate relief, but it needs to be taken carefully to avoid nasty side effects or worse.

Some of the common side effects which can be experienced when taking dihydrocodeine, include sickness, nausea, dizziness, sleepiness, constipation, and having a dry mouth, so you need to be aware of any of these symptoms should you experience them.

Always read the patient information leaflet first

Make sure you follow all of the instructions from your doctor or pharmacist before you start using the medication, and always read the patient leaflet so that you know exactly how to take it properly and carefully.

One of the issues with dihydrocodeine is that it can cause drowsiness and slower reactions, which makes it dangerous to drive potentially. You should avoid driving when you start taking this medication, to make sure you can check your reaction to it first.

Dihydrocodeine is an opioid and works by connecting with the opioid receptors in your brain which impacts on the way you feel pain and is only available on prescription and can cause issues with tolerance if taken for too long.

Health conditions which interact

There are some health conditions which your doctor must know about if you are planning to take dihydrocodeine as they can impact on the way the drug works. Before you start taking it, make sure you tell your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or if you have any liver or kidney problems.

Other health conditions which must be notified to the doctor before taking dihydrocodeine include prostate problems, urinary problems, breathing difficulties, low blood pressure, thyroid problems, epilepsy, head injury, pancreas issues, constipation or myasthenia gravis.

It is also important that you talk to your doctor for advice, prior to taking dihydrocodeine, if you have ever experienced a drug or alcohol addiction as it can also cause dependence issues so if you have hade dependency issues in the past it might not be suitable.

Dihydrocodeine can also interact with other medicines, so you must declare any other medications you are taking, even those which you have bought over the counter or supplements, so that your doctor can check to make sure dihydrocodeine is a suitable treatment for you.

Never drink alcohol with dihydrocodeine

It is really important not to drink alcohol if you have been prescribed dihydrocodeine, because it will increase the side effects such as dizziness and sleepiness and can cause major problems.

If you have been taking dihydrocodeine for some time, you must seek medical advice when you want to stop taking it as it can cause withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor can advise on how to lower your dosage gradually to help manage this issue.

You should only ever take dihydrocodeine for short time periods because your body will become tolerant to it over time, meaning it won’t be effective.

You should always let other health officials know you are taking this medication, for example, if you need dental treatment or surgery, or if you are looking to buy other medicine from a pharmacist – always check that it is safe first.

Reducing the side effect risk

There are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of side effects when taking dihydrocodeine such as taking it after food and drinking water regularly. Avoid driving or operating machinery while taking it and never drink alcohol. If you are worried about any side effects, you should speak to your doctor.

You should make sure you only ever take the dose as advised by your doctor or pharmacist, and never leave medication lying around where other people could take it. Always follow the instructions and never double a dose if you forget to take one. If you worry that you have taken too much you must seek emergency medical help straight away.

As an opioid drug, it is really important only to take it in line with the advice in the patient information leaflet and from your doctor or pharmacist. Never drink alcohol with this prescription and never exceed the stated dose.

You should not take dihydrocodeine long term and when you do wish to stop taking it, it’s important to get medical advice to help reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms. While dihydrocodeine is regularly prescribed for moderate to severe pain, it needs to be taken carefully and precisely to avoid suffering from potentially serious side effects.