The side effects of tramadol include common complaints such as dizziness and constipation. Called an opiate antagonist, tramadol is a painkiller used to treat pain in much the same way as opioid drugs like morphine and codeine. It does not have all of the same side effects as these drugs, and the risk of respiratory complications with tramadol is lowered, unless the medicine is combined with alcohol or certain antidepressants. Addiction is one of the riskier possible effects of tramadol, since any drug that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain can be habit-forming.
Tramadol is a painkiller that mimics the effects of opioid analgesic drugs which, in addition to relieving pain, stimulate the brain's pleasure and reward centers and can be addictive. It is prescribed to treat moderate to moderately severe pain, and has become preferable to many actual opioids because of its generally milder effects. Since it binds to the same receptors in the nervous system as opioids but is chemically quite different, the side effects of tramadol resemble but aren't identical to classical opioid painkillers like morphine. When it inhibits pain, tramadol activates receptors called mu-opioid receptors, but it also blocks the body's ability to regulate important neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Higher doses cause the common side effects of tramadol to occur more often. The most common of these are nausea, dizziness, and constipation, sometimes combined with reports of diarrhea. Overall, studies of tramadol suggest the incidence of gastrointestinal complaints varies with dosage and with the form of drug delivery, whether IV or oral. If administration of the drug is by IV drip, the nausea and constipation tend to be greater than if tramadol is taken orally in pill form. Mild headaches, with or without dizziness, have been reported by less than a third of patients.
One of the serious — if rare — side effects of tramadol is respiratory suppression. While less common a problem than with traditional opioid painkillers, respiratory difficulty from tramadol becomes more likely with overdose or with impaired kidney function, which increases the amount of the drug in blood circulation. As with many opioids, tramadol should not be mixed with alcohol because of the risk of respiratory complications. Conversely, some studies indicated tramadol increased the risk of seizures, particularly in those patients whose treatment regimen was combined with tricyclic antidepressants, or who had an existing history of epilepsy.
There has been some controversy among policymakers and scientists about the effects of tramadol. It can become an addictive drug to some people, but scientific studies have not indicated that patients build tolerance to it or require increasingly larger doses, as happens with opioid drugs. Because of its potentially addictive properties, it is a controlled substance in the United States and several other nations. Many countries regulate it as a prescription drug but not as a controlled substance in the same category as codeine or morphine.