Tramadol Symptoms, Signs & Side Effects

woman clenching stomach after taking too much Tramadol

Tramadol is a medication that is used for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. Like morphine, tramadol also binds to opioid receptors but with a much lower affinity. The analgesic properties of tramadol are also due to its ability to block the reabsorption of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. This ability of tramadol to increase the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine is similar to certain antidepressants. Due to its lower affinity for opioid receptors, tramadol has been considered to have low abuse potential and has been used as a safer alternative to other opioids. However, more recent studies have shown that long-term tramadol use can result in dependence and addiction. Misuse or abuse of tramadol can have life-threatening side effects, including respiratory failure and seizures.

Signs and Symptoms of Tramadol Addiction

Although tramadol has lower abuse potential than other opioids, long-term use of tramadol can result in severe dependence and addiction. Dependence on tramadol may occur due to the daily use of tramadol between a few weeks to a few months. Some of the symptoms of tramadol addiction include:

  • Intense cravings to use tramadol
  • Persisting with the use of tramadol despite negative consequences on interpersonal relationships
  • Spending a considerable amount of time using the drug or recovering from its use
  • Developing a tolerance for tramadol and requiring larger doses of the drug to produce previously experienced effects
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms upon abstinence from tramadol.

Short Term Side Effects of Tramadol

Some of the most common side effects of tramadol emerging over a 24-hour period include nausea, dry mouth, constipation, fatigue and sweating. High doses of tramadol, as in an overdose, can cause more severe symptoms such as seizures, respiratory and cardiac toxicities and even death.

Physical Side Effects

Some common physical side effects of tramadol include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy skin
  • Dryness of mouth
  • Constriction of pupils

Some of the rare effects of tramadol, often associated with an overdose, include:

  • Seizures
  • Respiration depression involving slow and shallow breathing
  • Cardiovascular collapse involving the collapse of blood vessels due to low blood pressure
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Coma
  • Liver and kidney dysfunction in very rare cases

Behavioral Side Effects

Some of the behavioral adverse effects of tramadol include:

  • Dizziness
  • Sedation
  • Nervousness
  • Changes in mood

Some of the more severe behavioral side effects of tramadol include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Decreased sexual desire

Since tramadol acts by inhibiting the reabsorption of the neurotransmitter serotonin, intake of large amounts of tramadol or use of tramadol with antidepressants that block serotonin reuptake can lead to serotonin syndrome. Some of the symptoms of serotonin syndrome include hyperthermia (increased body temperature), agitation, dilated pupils, nausea, overactive reflexes and hallucinations.

Long-Term Side Effects of Tramadol

Long-term use of tramadol can result in the development of dependence on the drug and even addiction. Long-term use of tramadol can also have negative consequences on the physical and mental health of the individual.

Physical Side Effects

Some of the common long-term physical side effects of tramadol include:

  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Constipation, abdominal pain and diarrhea
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Anorexia and weight loss
  • Increased risk of kidney or liver damage
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Physical dependence on the drug and addiction

Behavioral Side Effects

Some of the long-term behavioral effects of tramadol include:

  • Insomnia
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Apathy
  • Depersonalization
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty concentrating and cognitive deficits

Side Effects in Men

Chronic use of tramadol can influence the brain systems that control sexual function. Chronic use of tramadol can lead to decreased androgen levels in men. This may result in side effects such as:

  • Low libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Impotence

Side Effects in Women

Some of the side effects of tramadol in women include menopausal symptoms and disruption of sexual functioning. Tramadol can also negatively impact the genitourinary system increasing the chances of urinary tract infections such as cystitis. Tramadol taken during pregnancy can negatively impact the fetus resulting in seizures in the newborn, withdrawal symptoms in the newborn and death of the fetus.

Side Effects in the Elderly

Tramadol is metabolized by the liver and excreted through the kidneys. A decline in kidney or liver function as a result of aging may result in side effects even at low doses and must be used sparingly in the elderly. For example, the likelihood of gastrointestinal side effects is higher over the age of 75. Other side effects of tramadol in the elderly include dizziness and fainting along with liver and kidney dysfunction.

Help with Tramadol Addiction

Addiction to tramadol can not only adversely affect an individual’s physical and mental health but also have a negative impact on interpersonal relationships. Overcoming addiction to opioids can be extremely difficult and professional help should be sought as soon as possible. The first step in the treatment of tramadol addiction involves detoxification that may involve unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Medications, including other opioids like methadone and buprenorphine, can help to alleviate these withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.

Detoxification at a medical detox program followed by treatment at an inpatient rehabilitation facility can facilitate the treatment of tramadol addiction. Treatment of tramadol addiction generally involves behavioral approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy that teaches individuals coping skills to deal with triggers that lead to drug use.

Key Points: Understanding Tramadol Side Effects and Addiction

Some of the key points to remember regarding tramadol abuse include:

  • Tramadol is a synthetic opioid used for the treatment of moderate to severe pain.
  • Tramadol has a lower abuse potential relative to other opioids like morphine, but the use of tramadol at high doses can lead to physical dependence over time
  • Acute use of tramadol, especially at high doses, can result in life-threatening side effects such as low blood pressure, cardiovascular collapse, respiratory depression, seizures, coma and death.
  • Chronic use of tramadol can negatively impact physical and mental health and may cause gastrointestinal problems, sexual dysfunction, emotional disturbances and insomnia
  • Prolonged use of prescription or illicit tramadol can also lead to the development of an addiction characterized by an inability to control drug use and impaired social functioning due to drug use
  • Treatment for tramadol addiction involves detoxification treatment at a medical detox followed by treatment at an inpatient rehab center

If you or a loved one suffers from tramadol abuse, The Recovery Village Ridgefield can help. Call to speak with a representative about how professional addiction treatment can address substance use and any co-occurring mental health disorders. You deserve a healthier future, call today.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Tramadol.” October 2018. Accessed August 16, 2019.

Subedi, Muna; Shalini, Bajaj; Maushmi, Kumar; Y. C., Mayur. “An overview of tramadol and its usage in pain management and future perspective.” Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, March 2019. Accessed August 16, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.