Is Tramadol a risky pain medication?

Updated on December 16, 2020

Even when scientists spend an excruciating amount of time developing new medications, there is always a potential risk factor. These can range from mild side-effects to dangerous reactions that can ultimately cause death. It is exactly why taking the decision to take any medication must be done after weighing the benefits and risks.

Also, you must schedule an appointment with a medical professional before you start the consumption. Tramadol has a tumultuous history and is now a common pain-relieving medication. However, the question on its risk is gaining much more traction, given the reports of disastrous side-effects, overdose, and death.

How Tramadol became a controlled substance?

Developed by Grünenthal GmbH in the year 1962, Tramadol undertook a lengthy period of 15 years to get the approval. It was only available across the globe in 1977, but it was in 1995 that it gained entry into the UK and US. 

However, on its first introduction in foreign markets, Tramadol was not regulated as other opiates. This resulted in the rise of addiction and overdose cases. It was in the year 2014 that the FDA changed the status of Tramadol to a controlled substance. Due to being comparatively safe than other controlled substances, it was granted the designation of a Schedule IV drug.

Despite the potential for addiction or abuse, the medical uses of Tramadol have been widely accepted in the global medical community. However, restrictions on its usage must be taken seriously. 


The JAMA research

Recent research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) entailed an assessment of the potential of mortality amongst near-about 90,000 people. The criteria were that all the participants were suffering from osteoarthritis, was 50 years old (minimum), and were taking prescribed pain killers such as Naproxen, Tramadol, etc. 

The results showed a startling increase in deaths in patients that were consuming Tramadol compared to other medications. 

For instance:

  • 1.8% of the patients taking Diclofenec died while 3.5% died while consuming Tramadol.
  • 1.3% of the people consuming Naproxen died while 2.2% of the Tramadol sect.

However, confounding is a major issue in this particular study. It was impossible to determine if it is the consumption of Tramadol that caused death. Unless the external factors are limited completely, deducing conclusive results is not possible.

Though nothing concrete can be ascertained, the results themselves are alarming. If Tramadol is indeed not as safe as it was thought to be, then perhaps more precautions are needed. Only further research can assist in making a well-informed decision regarding the risk factor of Tramadol as a pain medication.

Side effects of Tramadol

There are several side-effects that are associated with the usage of Tramadol. The most common ones are – 

  • Sweating
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Depletion of energy
  • Vomiting
  • Dryness in the mouth

However, you can also experience serious Tramadol side effects. Make sure that you contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible. The side-effects include:

  • Seizure
  • Adrenal deficiency
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Delirium
  • Physical dependence
  • Androgen insufficiency
  • Addiction
  • Serotonin Syndrome
Mixing Tramadol and Alcohol - What Are The Effects?

Keep in mind that you must not share the Tramadol that you are prescribed with other people. It is entirely possible that it might not be the correct dosage for others. You can unknowingly cause great danger to them. 

Warning for special populations:

  1. Elderly
  2. People suffering from kidney diseases
  3. Pregnant women
  4. Patients having liver ailments

If you fall into either of these categories, then consuming Tramadol without the advice or suggestion of a doctor is a poor choice.  

Tramadol withdrawal symptoms and treatment

Despite being a prescription drug, it is entirely possible to develop an addiction towards Tramadol. Even though the functioning pathways are different from other opioids, there are still withdrawal symptoms that occur when you suddenly stop taking it. However, Tramadol has an additional effect on other neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

The Tramadol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Coughing
  • Panic
  • Fast breathing

There are also some treatment procedures that can help you to deal with the withdrawal symptoms. The most prominent ones include medical detox and tapering. Tapering is where the dosage is gradually reduced with the consultation of doctors. In medical detox, you are under the strict care of healthcare professionals to eliminate the toxins.

However, in some cases, psychosocial treatments like counseling with a psychiatrist or group therapy can help. You can engage in the various anonymous groups and rely on the emotional support of friends and family for recovery.

A risky pain medication

The death toll of users consuming Tramadol is indeed worrisome. If you are taking Tramadol as part of treatment, make sure that you have a conversation with your doctor regarding the JAMA study. Unfortunately, unless more research findings come forward, it is impossible to determine if Tramadol is a risky pain medication. Only more information can shed light on the risk aspect of using Tramadol in specific medical conditions. But, for now, the question remains unanswered.

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