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Tramadol is an active ingredient used in some pain relief medicines. This page explains what tramadol is used for, how it works, its risks and whether there are any other treatment options available in its place.

Looking for a medicine?

Visit healthdirect’s list of medicines that contain tramadol to find out more about a specific medicine.

What is tramadol?

Tramadol is a pain reliever from the same family as morphine, codeine and oxycodone. It is weaker than those medicines.

To get medicines containing tramadol, you will usually have to have a prescription written for you by a doctor.

What is tramadol used for?

Tramadol is a type of pain killer used to relieve moderate to severe pain.

How does tramadol work?

Tramadol can lessen pain in people by stopping the messages from the nerves to the brain. Tramadol works in the brain in a similar way to morphine and enhances the action of certain brain chemicals.

What forms of tramadol are available?

Tramadol is the name of the active ingredient. It is available in many different brands, which have different:

  • names
  • appearances (size, shape or colour)
  • forms (capsules, long-acting tablets, drops or by injection)
  • packaging

If you have been prescribed tramadol capsules or tablets, make sure you know how often to take them. Some are taken a few times a day while others are taken only twice or even once a day.

You might be prescribed sustained-release (SR) brands of tramadol tablets, that work over a long period of time, or extended-release (XR) brands (which work over a much longer period).

Risk and benefits of tramadol

All medicines have benefits and the risk of side effects.

Tramadol is effective for reducing pain. However, pain management - especially for long-term (chronic) pain - is complex, and medicine is just one part of managing pain.

The side effects of tramadol are usually minor and temporary but some may be more serious.

The most common side effects are dizziness and nausea. Other common side effects include:

  • sleepiness
  • constipation
  • sweating
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • dry mouth
  • vomiting

There are other rare side effects. Tell your doctor if you experience any of these since you might need immediate medical treatment:

  • skin rash (red spots or patches), itching hives, skin lumps
  • swelling or puffiness of the eyelids, face or lips
  • chest tightness, wheezing or pain in the chest
  • heart palpitations (feeling of your heart beating rapidly or irregularly), faintness or collapse
  • hallucinations (hearing, seeing or smelling things that aren’t there)
  • fits

When used as advised by your doctor, tramadol is unlikely to be addictive, but it can be addictive if used in high doses or for long periods.

For more information about tramadol, speak to your doctor or pharmacist. You can also read the Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) leaflet about tramadol.

Access to overdose-reversing medication

Naloxone is a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. A pilot program, funded by the Australian government, will offer certain individuals in NSW, SA and WA this medication (including the nasal spray Nyxoid) for free and without a prescription during the period 1 December 2019 to 28 February 2021.

Learn more about the Take Home Naloxone pilot here, or contact the Pharmacy Programs Administrator to find out how to register.

Alternatives to tramadol

There are other types of pain relief medicines that your doctor may recommend you take in addition to, or instead of, tramadol. Physical therapy and psychological therapy may also help with pain management.

More information

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

You can also visit healthdirect's list of medicines that contain tramadol to read the CMI for the brand of tramadol prescribed.

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

Last reviewed: December 2018

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