Tramadol a strong painkiller for moderate to severe pain

What is tramadol?

Tramadol is a strong opioid-type painkiller (sometimes called an opiate or narcotic) that's used to relieve moderate to severe pain. It's only available on prescription.

Tramadol comes as tablets, capsules and oral drops, and may be given by injection or drip if you're in hospital.

Invodol, Mabron, Maneo, Marol, Maxitram, Oldaram, Tilodol, Tradorec, Tramquel, Tramulief, Zamadol, Zeridame and Zydol are all brand names for tramadol.

Tramacet contains tramadol in combination with paracetamol.

What is tramadol used for?

  • Short-term relief of moderate to severe pain, for example pain following an operation or injury.
  • Relieving chronic moderate to severe pain when weaker painkillers haven't been effective.

💡Key facts about tramadol

  • Tramadol is suitable for adults and children aged 12 years and over.
  • Tramadol comes as fast-acting forms that are usually taken three to four times a day, and slow-release forms that are taken once or twice a day.
  • Tramadol can be addictive, but addiction is rare when it's taken as directed by a doctor to relieve pain.
  • The most common side effects are feeling sick, dizzy or sleepy.
  • Don't drink alcohol while taking tramadol.
  • It may be an offence to drive while taking tramadol.
  • Tramadol is a schedule 3 controlled drug that has the potential to be abused. Keep it safe and never give it to anyone else.

How does tramadol work?

Strong opioid painkillers like tramadol relieve pain by mimicking the action of naturally occurring pain-reducing chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are found in the brain and spinal cord and reduce pain by combining with opioid receptors.

Tramadol mimicks the action of our natural endorphins by combining with the same opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. This blocks the transmission of pain signals sent by the nerves to the brain and means that even though the cause of the pain may remain, less pain is actually felt.

Tramadol also enhances the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord. Neurotransmitters are chemical compounds that act as messengers between the nerve cells. Tramadol enhances the effect of the neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenaline, and this action also helps relieve pain.

Is tramadol addictive?

Addiction can be a problem when opioids like tramadol are used recreationally. But if you're taking tramadol to relieve pain, it's highly unlikely that you will get addicted to it in the psychological sense, because you're not taking it to get a 'high'.

If you need to take tramadol for long periods of time your body can become tolerant to it, so it may get less effective and you may then need higher doses to control pain. It is also possible to become dependent on tramadol if you take it for a long time, but this is much less likely than with other opioids. It's not usually a problem when you stop taking it, because withdrawal symptoms can generally be avoided by reducing treatment gradually.

It's important that you don't take a higher dose of tramadol than prescribed by your doctor, or take it for longer than they recommend. When stopping treatment always follow your doctor's instructions.

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