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Tramadol for Chronic Pain

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Updated October 22, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Is Tramadol:

Tramadol is a type of opioid painkiller used to treat moderate to severe types of pain. Because it is considered a controlled substance, it is available only by a doctor’s prescription.

Tramadol is available in both short-acting and long-acting (called “extended release”) forms. The form you take depends on the type and severity of your pain.

How Tramadol Works:

Tramadol is an opioid, and works by changing the way the nervous system perceives pain in the body. Its exact mechanisms are not completely understood, but it is thought to inhibit the transmission of certain neurotransmitters associated with pain.

Other Names for Tramadol:

Tramadol is the generic name for the following drugs:

Tramadol Side Effects:

Tramadol does have potential side effects, similar to many other opioid painkillers. These include:
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle stiffness or tightness
  • Mood changes, such as anxiety or agitation
  • Itching, sweating and/or chills

Serious side effects that require immediate medical attention include seizures, a rash or hives, difficulty breathing or staying awake, swelling of the face or limbs, and hallucinations.

Tramadol Use in Special Populations:

Tramadol use should be closely monitored if:
  • You have kidney or liver dysfunction
  • You take certain types of antidepressants
  • You are a senior
  • You have a history of head injury

Tramadol use is not recommended for pregnant women, nursing mothers or children under the age of 16.

Tramadol Overdose:

Like other opioids, tramadol abuse or misuse can lead to a drug overdose. This can happen if tramadol is combined with other depressants, such as alcohol or sleep aids. It can also happen if you take more than your prescribed dose, or if you crush or chew your medication.

Symptoms of a tramadol overdose include difficulty breathing, cold and/or clammy skin, unresponsiveness, and small pupils. If you suspect a tramadol overdose, seek immediate medical attention.

Sources:

Medline Plus. Tramadol. Accessed 10/2/09. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a695011.html

National Institutes of Health. Ryzolt (Tramadol Hydrochloride Extended-Release Tablets). Accessed 10/1/09. http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?id=9048

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