Constipation is an almost universal side-effect associated with chronic opioid analgesia. The resulting discomfort can for some patients be moro severe than the pain itself, leading to a reduction of analgesic use and consequently to increased pain. Clinical trials consistently show less constipation in patients treated with transdermal fentanyl than in patients receiving oral morphine. Several reasons can be identified for this finding: owing to its higher lipophilicity, fentanyl penetrates the blood-brain barrier more easily and lower dosing is possible; owing to the transdermal route of administration of fentanyl, comparatively less opioid is available in the gastrointestinal tract to block local opioid receptors; finally, the transdermal route of administration leads to stable plasma levels of fentanyl over 72 h and hence minimises the probability of overdosing that can occur with multiple daily dosing. Further research is needed to establish whether these effects can also be extrapolated to other peripheral effects of opioids such as nausea and vomiting.