Every medication comes with a set of benefits and risks. It’s up to the patient to weigh these factors and make an informed decision.
Patients with head injuries, certain stomach problems, or lung diseases may have an increased risk of breathing complications from taking tramadol. These patients should avoid the drug altogether.
How Does Tramadol Work?
Tramadol works by changing the way your brain and nervous system respond to pain. It can relieve both moderate and severe pain. It is usually taken orally, but can also be given intravenously. Tramadol is available in immediate-release oral tablets and extended-release or delayed-release oral capsules. It is a brand name drug and generic versions of the medicine are available.
Talk to your doctor before taking this drug if you have liver or kidney disease, or other health problems, including depression, a history of addiction, or mental illness. This drug may make you dizzy or drowsy. It can cause breathing problems in some people, especially if you have a history of lung or heart disease, or a history of alcoholism or drug abuse. This medication is not recommended for use during pregnancy. Research in animals has shown adverse effects on the fetus. If you become pregnant while taking this drug, call your doctor right away. This medication passes into breast milk and may harm a nursing baby.
Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction to tramadol (hives, difficult breathing, swelling in your face or throat) or a severe skin reaction (fever, sore throat, burning in your eyes, skin pain, red or purple rash that spreads and causes blistering and peeling). Overdose can cause slow or stopped breathing and death. Your doctor may recommend you get naloxone (a medicine to reverse opioid overdose) and keep it with you at all times.
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What are the Side Effects of Tramadol?
While tramadol may help reduce pain, it can also have side effects. These include nausea, vomiting, constipation, dizziness, autonomic nervous system effects (dry mouth, perspiration), headache and weakness. Some patients may experience seizures or a low level of sodium in the blood. In addition, it can cause severe or life-threatening breathing problems if used with certain other medications. Tell your doctor if you have: a blockage or narrowing of your stomach or intestines; a history of asthma or other lung disease; diabetes; kidney or liver disease; mental illness, including depression or thoughts about harming yourself or others; a history of alcohol or drug abuse; or any other medical condition.
Tramadol can increase the risk of seizures if you have a history of them or have had brain surgery. It can also interact with antidepressants, particularly those that affect serotonin, such as SSRIs and MAOIs. It may also interact with antipsychotics, including clozapine and quetiapine.
Avoid alcohol while taking this medication. It can increase the sedating effects of tramadol. If you are breastfeeding, do not take it. It can pass into breast milk and cause serious, life-threatening side effects in a baby who is nursing. This includes slowed or troubled breathing, confusion, more sleepiness than usual and limpness in the infant. Talk to your doctor before breastfeeding. They will advise you on whether it is safe to do so.
How Long Does Tramadol Take to Work?
Tramadol takes time to reach your system and start working, which can be frustrating when you’re in pain. To help relieve your symptoms as quickly as possible, your doctor may prescribe a lower dose of this medication at first and then slowly increase it over a few days until the optimal level is reached. Then your doctor will monitor you and change the dosage if necessary. People with liver disease or kidney disease may require a lower dose of tramadol. In addition, it’s important not to take more than your prescribed dosage of this drug because you could experience serious side effects or overdose. Your doctor will monitor your breathing rate and other signs of overdose closely.
Tramadol attaches to different receptors in your brain and blocks the nerve signals that cause pain while increasing serotonin levels to create a more relaxed state. When taken properly, this drug can be a safe and effective way to treat moderate-to-severe pain. However, it’s important to understand that tramadol is highly addictive and can be harmful if misused. If you have concerns about misuse, talk to your doctor or call the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. For more information about how to treat opioid addiction, see How to Treat Opioid Addiction and Dependence.
Do I Need a Prescription for Tramadol?
While tramadol is not considered an opiate, it has opiate-like properties and can lead to dependence. It is also a controlled substance due to the possibility of addiction, so it is tightly regulated and requires a prescription. Your doctor will carefully assess your risk before prescribing it to you.
Using tramadol long-term can affect your kidneys, so your doctor will monitor you regularly for signs of damage. They will check your blood pressure, urine, and creatinine (a measure of kidney function). They may also want to monitor your heart rate. If you have liver disease, they may need to lower your dose or prescribe a different pain medication.
Tramadol can interact with other medications, vitamins, or herbs you’re taking. This can be harmful or prevent the drug from working well. Tell your doctor about all of the prescription and nonprescription drugs, vitamins, and supplements you use.
Long-term use of opioids can cause addiction, physical dependency, and withdrawal syndrome. Chronic pain and depression can also make people more likely to perceive opioids as rewarding.
It is important to take tramadol exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Do not increase your dose, take it more often or for a longer period of time than recommended by your doctor. Your doctor may also recommend that you have a rescue medication, such as naloxone, available in case of an overdose.