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Tramadol

7-minute read

If a person is not breathing, or if they are unresponsive, seek help straight away. Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Tramadol is an opioid medicine used for the short-term relief of moderate to severe pain.
  • It is not usually recommended for the treatment of chronic (long-term) pain.
  • Tramadol is only available with a prescription from your doctor.
  • If you stop taking tramadol suddenly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, so ask your doctor how to reduce your dose safely.

What is tramadol?

Tramadol is an opioid medicine only available with a prescription from your doctor.

LOOKING FOR A MEDICINE? — See this list of medicines that contain tramadol to find out more about a specific medication.

What is tramadol used for?

Tramadol is used for the short-term relief of severe pain. It should only be used when other forms of non-opioid pain relief have not been successful in managing pain or are not tolerated.

Tramadol is not usually recommended for the treatment of chronic (long-term) pain.

How does tramadol work?

Tramadol works directly on opioid receptors in the central nervous system and reduces feelings of pain by interrupting the way nerves signal pain between the brain and the body.

What forms of tramadol are there?

It is usually available as an oral tablet, although a liquid formulation is also sometimes used.

Tramadol is also available in a combination tablet together with paracetamol. Your doctor will prescribe the right form of tramadol for your circumstances.

If you are prescribed tramadol and paracetamol together, make sure you don’t take any other medicines that also contain paracetamol. This can increase your risk of paracetamol overdose.

What are the possible side effects of tramadol?

All opioids, including tramadol, can have side effects that include life-threatening breathing problems. The risk of these is higher:

  • when you first take tramadol
  • after a dosage increase
  • if you are older
  • if you have an existing lung problem

The side effects of tramadol are similar to those of other opioids, and include:

Always take medicines exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What are the risks associated with tramadol?

Opioids are strong pain-relief medicines and can cause life-threatening breathing problems.

Tramadol may make it difficult for you to drive or operate heavy machinery due to drowsiness. If you have recently started taking tramadol or another opioid medicine, or changed your dosage, you may be at a higher risk of having an accident.

WORRIED ABOUT YOUR OPIOID USE? — The Opioid Risk Indicator can help you find out if you may be developing a problem.

If your kidney or liver function is impaired, your doctor may decide that tramadol is not appropriate for you. There are other factors that may limit your use of tramadol — for example, if you drink alcohol or take other medicines that can cause drowsiness.

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on whether tramadol is the right medicine for you, how much you need and how long to take it for. Your doctor will also guide you on when and how to stop taking tramadol.

Opioid dependence

If you take tramadol you may become dependent on this medicine if you take it regularly, even if you take it exactly as prescribed and for a short time only. Your doctor will monitor how you use tramadol to reduce your risk of harm, including through misuse, abuse and addiction.

You can also develop tolerance when you take tramadol. This means that you may need to take larger amounts of the opioid to get the same effect. As the dosage increases, so does the risk of side effects.

If you stop taking tramadol suddenly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

If a person is not breathing, or if they are unresponsive, or if you are concerned about an overdose of tramadol or opioid-containing medicine, seek help straight away. Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Access to overdose-reversing medication

Naloxone is a medicine that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The Australian Government is offering this medication free of charge and without a prescription to people who may experience, or witness, an opioid overdose.

Learn more about the Take Home Naloxone program.

Are there any alternatives to tramadol?

Everyone's pain is unique, and different pain-relief medicines will work in different circumstances. Some people’s pain will respond well to non-opioid medicines, which generally have fewer risks and side effects.

Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before making any change to the dosage or type of medicine you take.

If you have chronic (long-term) pain, your doctor might suggest lifestyle changes to help manage the discomfort. This may include:

Find out more about options for managing chronic pain.

When should I see my doctor?

If your pain is not well controlled by tramadol or you have any new or unexpected side effects, see your doctor.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Pain Question Planner to prepare for your doctor’s appointment.

How do I dispose of medicines safely?

It's important you dispose of unwanted opioid medicines safely. Unused medicines can be returned to any pharmacy. Don't keep unused tramadol 'just in case', as this can lead to dangerous or inappropriate use.

Keep tramadol out of reach of children and pets. Never throw medicines into a garbage bin or flush them down the toilet, as this is dangerous to others and harmful to the environment.

Resources and support

Asking about your treatment or medicine is important to help you understand your options. Here's a guide to questions you should ask your pharmacist or doctor before taking a medicine.

See this list of medicines that contain tramadol to read the consumer medicines information (CMI) leaflet for the brand prescribed. You can also:

  • Call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) to talk about the medicines you are taking for your pain.
  • Discuss your pain on the Pain Link helpline (1300 340 357) which is staffed by volunteers with personal experience of chronic pain.
  • Go to Painaustralia to find pain services and programs in your area.
  • Learn more about prescription opioids on Choosing Wisely.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2023


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