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Tramadol

6-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 on prescription from your doctor.
  • If you stop taking tramadol suddenly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

What is tramadol?

Tramadol is an opioid medicine available on 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 moderate to 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 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 first taking 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.

If you take tramadol, you may become dependent on this medicine, even if you take it exactly as prescribed by your doctor. 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.

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

Continue to take tramadol for as long as your doctor tells you to. If you stop taking tramadol suddenly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

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

If your kidney or liver function is impaired, your doctor may decide that tramadol in 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.

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

Access to overdose-reversing medication

Naloxone is a medicine that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. A pilot program, funded by the Australian Government, is offering certain individuals in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia this medication (including the nasal spray Nyxoid) free of charge and without a prescription.

Learn more here about the take home naloxone pilot.

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 are generally associated with 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 physical fitness and activity pacing, social activities, relaxation techniques and overall health management.

You can find more information here 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', since this can lead to inappropriate use.

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

Resources and support

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

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

  • Call the NPS MedicineWise Medicines Line (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.

  • Got to Painaustralia to find pain services and programs in your area.

  • Learn more about prescription opioids on ScriptWise.

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

Last reviewed: January 2021


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