Tramadol: 9 Things You Should Know
Medically reviewed by L. Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Feb 12, 2019.
Tramadol: A Controlled Substance In All 50 U.S. States
Tramadol is a narcotic-like painkiller, a centrally acting synthetic opioid analgesic. So it's no surprise that tramadol (common brands include: Ultram, Ultram ER, Ultracet, ConZip, Ryzolt), was also found to be linked with drug abuse, addiction, and overdose in a 2015 report.
To address these concerns, the DEA placed all forms of tramadol into schedule IV of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Previously, tramadol was thought to be of lower risk for abuse and was a controlled substance in only a few states.
What does this mean for patients? Now, tramadol prescriptions may only be refilled up to 5 times in a 6 month period after the date the prescription was first written. After five refills or six months, whichever occurs first, a new prescription is required from your healthcare provider.
Tramadol And Side Effects Go Hand-In-Hand
For many people, tramadol is well-tolerated when used for pain, but tramadol can also cause some common and bothersome side effects, especially with higher doses, such as:
- diarrhea or constipation
- nausea or vomiting
- impaired mental abilities and confusion
Take Note: Tramadol Serious Side Effects
Common side effects may be bothersome, but serious side effects (which may be less common or even rare) can be deadly. Contact your doctor if you have any serious side effect, such as:
- serotonin syndrome
- slowed breathing
- life-threatening allergic or skin reactions
- angioedema (fluid swelling under the skin, often around the face)
- orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when you stand up
- suicidal thoughts or actions
- opiate withdrawal symptoms
Warnings: Tramadol Use in Children
- Life-threatening respiratory depression (difficult, slowed breathing) and death have occurred in children who received tramadol.
- Tramadol (Ultram, Ultram ER, ConZip) should NOT be used in children younger than 12 years of age.
- It's especially important that tramadol NOT be used in children up to 18 years after tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy surgical procedures (removal of tonsils or adenoids)
- Avoid the use of tramadol in adolescents 12 to 18 years of age who have other risk factors that may increase their sensitivity to the respiratory depressant effects of tramadol. Risk factors may include respiratory depression after surgery, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, severe lung disease, neuromuscular disease, and use of other medications at the same time as tramadol that also cause respiratory depression.
Don't Stop Your Tramadol Cold Turkey
Don't abruptly stop taking tramadol if you have been using it regularly for pain control, as withdrawal symptoms may occur, such as:
Even more concerning, seizures can occur with recommended doses of tramadol, but are more likely at higher doses associated with abuse.
Tramadol drug interactions with agents such as antidepressants, other narcotic pain relievers, or any other drug that lowers seizure threshold can result in a greater risk for seizures. Your doctor should suggest a slow and safe tapering dose schedule of tramadol when you stop treatment after using it regularly.
Beware: Drug Interactions With Tramadol
Patients receiving migraine agents called “triptans” -- drugs like Imitrex (sumatriptan), Zomig (zolmitriptan), and Relpax (eletriptan) -- may be at a higher risk for a dangerous drug interaction known as "serotonin syndrome".
Do not take tramadol if you have used any alcohol, sedatives, tranquilizers, or narcotic medication because of the risk of slowed breathing or other nervous system depression.
Activities that require you to be alert, like driving or using dangerous machinery, should be avoided while taking tramadol.
There are many other tramadol drug interactions, so you should always have a drug interaction review completed by your pharmacist each time you start or stop any prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal supplement medication.
Tramadol: Don't Make It A Habit
Even though tramadol is not a full opiate -- it's thought it also exhibits weak inhibition of reuptake of norepinephrine and serotonin -- people with a history of drug abuse may be at a greater risk of addiction.
Tramadol is related to the opioids like codeine and morphine and can lead to psychological and physical dependence, drug-seeking behavior, and withdrawal. Short-term use of tramadol is the best option.
- If you are concerned you are becoming addicted, talk to your doctor about alternative pain medicines.
- As previously mentioned, tramadol should not be stopped abruptly.
- Withdrawal symptoms may occur if you are dependent upon tramadol and quickly stop taking it.
- However, these may be lessened by a slow dose reduction combined with symptomatic support, as directed by your doctor.
Support groups aren't the right way to get individual medical advice; that should only be provided by your doctor.
However, the Drugs.com group discussions may be helpful for patients looking to find others with similar medical conditions who want to share experiences and express concerns.
While group chats might be helpful to you, they are NOT a substitute for the expertise, knowledge and judgement of your healthcare professional.
Fact: Generics Save You Money
Bottom line - if you can get a medication in the generic form, do it. Also, ask your doctor to prescribe only generics when possible. Tramadol does come in generic forms for both the immediate-release and extended-release forms and can probably save you hundreds of prescription dollars.
- For example, 60 tablets of the immediate-release generic tramadol cost about $8.00, on average, using a common online prescription discount coupon (prices will vary around the country).
- However, the brand name Ultram runs over $200 for the same amount and strength.
- Ask your pharmacist about other ways to save money on your prescriptions; in some cases, paying cash may be cheaper than your insurance co-pay with certain generics.
Your Dose: One Size Does Not Fit All
As with many medications, tailored drug doses are often required if you are a child, senior, or have kidney or liver disease. This is the case with tramadol dosing. The dosing interval (how often you take the drug) may need to be adjusted, the dose reduced, or there may be a maximum dose you should not exceed.
Talk to your doctor about the need for adjusted doses with any medication. In fact, the extended-release form of tramadol ER (Ultram ER) should NOT be used at all in patients with severe liver or kidney disease.
Finished: Tramadol: 9 Things You Should Know
- D.M. Bush. The DAWN Report: Emergency Department Visits for Drug Misuse or Abuse Involving the Pain Medication Tramadol. (2015). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Rockville, MD. Accessed Feb. 12, 2019 at https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_1966/ShortReport-1966.html
- ERs See Spike in Narcotic Painkiller Abuse Cases. Drugs.com. Accessed Feb. 12, 2019 at https://www.drugs.com/news/ers-see-spike-narcotic-painkiller-abuse-cases-56797.html
- Drug Enforcement Administration. Office of Diversion Control. Drug and Chemical Evaluation Section. Tramadol. (Trade Names: Ultram, Ultracet®); July 2014. Accessed Feb. 12, 2019.
- Sansone RA, Sansone LA. Tramadol: Seizures, Serotonin Syndrome, and Coadministered Antidepressants. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2009;6:17-21. Accessed Feb. 12, 2019 at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2714818/
- Young JWS, Juurlink DN. Tramadol. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2013;185:E352. Accessed Feb. 12, 2019 at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3652964/#__sec6title
- Tramadol Package Insert. Drugs.com. Accessed Feb. 12, 2019 at https://www.drugs.com/pro/tramadol-capsules.html
Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.