Tramadol is a strong painkiller. It’s used to treat moderate to severe pain, for example after an operation or a serious injury.
It’s also used to treat long-standing pain when weaker painkillers no longer work.
Tramadol is available only on prescription. It comes as tablets, capsules and liquid drops that you swallow. It can also be given by injection but this is usually only done in hospital.
- Tramadol works by blocking pain signals from travelling along the nerves to the brain.
- The most common side effects of tramadol are feeling sick and dizzy.
- It's possible to become addicted to tramadol, but this is rare if you're taking it to relieve pain as advised by your doctor.
- It's best not to drink alcohol with tramadol as you're more likely to get side effects like feeling sleepy.
- Tramadol is also called by the brand names Invodol, Larapam, Mabron, Maneo, Marol, Maxitram, Oldaram, Tilodol, Tradorec, Tramquel, Tramulief, Zamadol, Zeridame and Zydol.
Who can and can't take tramadol
Tramadol can be taken by adults and children aged 12 and over.
Tramadol is not suitable for some people. Tell your doctor or pharmacist before starting the medicine if you have:
- had an allergic reaction to tramadol or any other medicines in the past
- an illness which causes seizures
- a head injury
- an addiction to alcohol, strong painkillers or recreational drugs
- breathing difficulties
- kidney or liver problems
- had a reaction to other strong painkillers in the past
How and when to take it
It's important to take tramadol as your doctor has asked you to.
The dose can vary but you should not normally take more than 400mg a day.
Tramadol doesn't usually upset your tummy, so you can take it with or without food.
Different types of tramadol
Tramadol comes as:
- liquid drops (that you mix with water and swallow)
- an injection
Tramadol drops, injections and some tablets and capsules are fast-acting. They start to work within 30 to 60 minutes. They're used for pain that is expected to last for only a short time. You may be told to take fast-acting tramadol only when you need it for pain or on a regular basis. Always follow the instructions given to you by your doctor.
Some tramadol tablets and capsules are slow-release. This means the tramadol is gradually released into your body over either 12 or 24 hours. This type of tramadol takes longer to start working but lasts longer. It's used for long-term pain.
Your doctor will decide the right dose for you, depending on how sensitive you are to pain and how bad your pain is. Your dose may need to be changed several times to find what works best for you. In general, you will be prescribed the lowest dose that relieves your pain.
How to take it
Fast-acting tramadol comes as capsules, drops and 2 different tablets - soluble and dissolve-in-the-mouth tablets:
- capsules: swallow each capsule whole with plenty of water
- drops: mix the drops into a glass of water then drink the whole contents of the glass
- soluble tablets: dissolve each tablet in 50ml (1/2 cup) of water and drink
- dissolve-in-the-mouth tablets: make sure your hands are dry before handling the tablet. Take the tablet out of the blister pack and put it on your tongue. Suck the tablet, do not chew it. After it has melted, swallow or have a drink of water. You can also dissolve the tablet in a glass of water if you prefer.
Slow-release tramadol comes as tablets and capsules. It's important to swallow slow-release tramadol tablets and capsules whole with a drink of water.
Do not break, crush, chew or suck slow-release tablets and capsules. If you do, the slow-release system won't work and the whole dose might get into your body in one go. This could cause a potentially fatal overdose.
How often will I take it?
How often you take it depends on the type of tramadol that you have been prescribed:
- fast-acting tablets and capsules - usually 3 to 4 times a day
- drops - usually 3 to 4 times a day
- slow-release tablets and capsules - usually 1 or 2 times a day
If you're 65 and over, or you have liver or kidney problems, you may be asked by your doctor to take tramadol less often.
You can take your tramadol at any time of day but try to take it at the same time every day and space your doses evenly. For example, if you take tramadol twice a day and have your first dose at 8am, take your second dose at 8pm.
What if I forget to take it?
This will vary depending on which type of tramadol you are taking.
If you forget to take a dose, check the information on the patient information leaflet inside the packaging or ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice on what to do.
Never take 2 doses at the same time to make up for a forgotten one.
If you forget doses often, it may help to set an alarm to remind you. You could also ask your pharmacist for advice on other ways to help you remember to take your medicine.
What if I take too much?
Taking too much tramadol can be dangerous.
If you've taken an accidental overdose you may feel very sleepy, sick or dizzy. You may also find it difficult to breathe. In serious cases you can become unconscious and may need emergency treatment in hospital.
The amount of tramadol that can lead to an overdose varies from person to person.
If you've taken 1 extra dose by mistake, check the information that comes with the medicine packaging or ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice. Generally, you shouldn't get any symptoms and you can take your next dose as usual.
If you take more than 1 extra dose of tramadol by accident, call your doctor or go to your nearest hospital A&E department straight away.
If you need to go to hospital, take the tramadol packet or leaflet inside it plus any remaining medicine with you.
Taking tramadol with other painkillers
Some everyday painkillers that you can buy from pharmacies contain codeine, which is a similar medicine to tramadol. Codeine-containing painkillers that you can buy from pharmacies include co-codamol, Nurofen Plus and Solpadeine.
Do not take tramadol with codeine-containing painkillers you can buy from a pharmacy. You'll be more likely to get side effects.
Like all medicines, tramadol can cause side effects although not everyone gets them. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if the side effects listed below bother you or don’t go away.
Very common side effects
Very common side effects of tramadol happen in more than 1 in 10 people and include:
- feeling sick
Common side effects
Common side effects of tramadol happen in more than 1 in 100 people. They include:
- dry mouth
- low energy
Serious side effects
Serious side effects are rare. Tell your doctor straight away if you get:
- heart problems
- seizures (fits)
- breathing difficulty or short shallow breathing
- dizzy, tired and have low energy - these can be a sign of low blood pressure
- hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there)
- very sleepy
- trouble peeing or you can't pee at all
Serious allergic reaction
In rare cases, it’s possible to have a serious allergic reaction to tramadol.
A serious allergic reaction is an emergency. Contact a doctor straight away if you think you or someone around you is having a serious allergic reaction.
The warning signs of a serious allergic reaction are:
- getting a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin
- tightness in the chest or throat
- having trouble breathing or talking
- swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat
These are not all the side effects of tramadol. For a full list see the leaflet inside your medicines packet.
How to cope with side effects
What to do about:
- feeling sick or vomiting - take tramadol with or just after a meal or snack. It may help if you stick to simple meals and don’t eat rich or spicy food. This side effect should normally wear off after a few days. Talk to your doctor about taking an anti-sickness medicine if it carries on for longer.
- feeling sleepy, tired, dizzy or 'spaced out' - these side effects should wear off within a week or two as your body gets used to tramadol. Talk to your doctor if they carry on for longer.
- headache - make sure you rest and drink plenty of fluids. Don’t drink too much alcohol. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a painkiller. Headaches should usually go away after the first week of taking tramadol. Talk to your doctor if they last longer than a week or are severe.
- constipation - try to eat more high-fibre foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables and cereals. Also try to drink several glasses of water or another non-alcoholic drink every day. If you can, it may also help to do some gentle exercise like swimming or going for a short walk. Speak to your doctor about medicine to help prevent or treat constipation caused by tramadol if your symptoms don't go away.
- dry mouth - try chewing sugar-free gum or sucking sugar-free sweets. Your doctor may also prescribe an artificial saliva substitute to keep your mouth moist. This comes as a spray, gel or lozenge.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Tramadol isn’t thought to be completely safe to take during pregnancy.
In early pregnancy, it’s been linked to some problems for your unborn baby. If you take tramadol at the end of pregnancy there's a risk that your newborn baby may get withdrawal symptoms.
However, it's important to treat pain in pregnancy. For some pregnant women with severe pain, tramadol might be the best option. Your doctor is the best person to help you decide what's right for you and your baby.
For more information about how tramadol can affect you and your baby during pregnancy see the BUMPS leaflet.
Breastfeeding and tramadol
It's safe to breastfeed while taking tramadol. Tramadol passes into breast milk in small amounts but it's unlikely to harm your baby.
However, if your baby is premature, had a low birth weight or has an illness, talk to your doctor before breastfeeding.
Tell your doctor if you're trying to get pregnant, are already pregnant or if you're breastfeeding.
Cautions with other medicines
Some medicines and tramadol interfere with each other and increase the chances of you having side effects.
Tell your doctor if you are taking any medicines:
- for depression
- for mental health problems
- for pain relief
- to help you sleep
- to reduce tension or anxiety
- to treat symptoms of an allergy
- to thin the blood (such as warfarin)
- to treat an infection
Some medicines may weaken and/or shorten the effect of tramadol.
Tell your doctor if you're taking:
- carbamazepine (to treat epilepsy)
- buprenorphine (a painkiller)
- ondansetron (to stop you feeling sick)
- rifampicin (an antibiotic)
Do not take medicines called monoamine oxidase inhibitors or MAOIs (which are used to treat depression) with tramadol.
Mixing tramadol with herbal remedies and supplements
We don't know if complementary medicines and herbal teas are safe to take with tramadol. They're not tested in the same way as pharmacy and prescription medicines. They're generally not tested for the effect they have on other medicines.
Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you’re taking any other medicines, including herbal remedies, vitamins or supplements.
How does tramadol work?
When will I feel better?
How long will I take tramadol for?
Can I become addicted to tramadol?
How will I know if I'm addicted?
Will I get withdrawal symptoms when I stop taking it?
Are there other painkillers I can try?
Will it affect my contraception?
Can I drink alcohol with it?
Can I drive or ride a bike with it?
Will recreational drugs affect it?