Tramadol Side Effects: The Potential Dangers of Using Ultram

Last Updated: April 13, 2021

Authored by Roger Weiss, MD

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Tramadol, also known as Ultram, is a legal synthetic opioid that treats moderate, severe, and chronic pain. People use it, for example, to treat post-surgical pain or a chronic condition such as arthritis.

Ultram provides quick pain relief and can be extremely helpful for people with chronic pain, but it’s a drug that can be potentially dangerous to health if it isn’t used right. People that might not have complete information about the correct doses can end up accidentally abusing the drug. The side effects of Tramadol abuse can be potentially life-threatening.

Tramadol side effects can start on the milder side with headaches, nausea, and drowsiness and can get severe over time. Severe side effects of Tramadol can cause slowed breathing and high body temperature, affecting the mind, causing confusion and seizures, and can even lead to suicidal thoughts. If the patient strays from the prescription their doctor or medical health professional have prescribed, they can risk experiencing adverse negative Tramadol effects or symptoms, addiction, and even overdose.

Tramadol Effects

People use Ultram because it is less potent than other similar narcotics. Morphine, for example, has much more potent effects but also a much higher risk of addiction. That makes people believe that it is relatively safe. Many recreational users share that belief.

Woman feeling bad and taking a tramadol pill.

It does not provide extreme highs for everyone and certainly not for people that wish to stay within reasonable safety limits and not overdose on Ultram.

These Are the Benefits That People Look For by Using Ultram:

  • Pain relief. Ultram modifies the pain signals that go to the brain, which dampens pain sensations.
  • Mood enhancement. It increases the levels of the same neurotransmitters in the brain as many antidepressants.
  • Anti-anxiolytic. The drug is relaxing and helps to reduce anxiety.

Can Tramadol Be Harmful?

Ultram is an opioid medication. It is a schedule IV substance, which means that it has a potential for addiction. Many people that follow precisely the doctor’s prescriptions and orders do not have any side effects.

Problems arise if someone consumes the medication without medical approval. Many people become addicted to Ultram not because they were seeking a high but because they deviated from the prescribed regimen.

Users Are At Risk of Suffering From Severe Ultram Side Effects if They:

  • Use it for an extended period. That happens, for example, by disregarding the doctor's orders to change the medication. Switch to other drugs to avoid becoming dependent.
  • Take overlarge doses or too frequent doses. It is essential to maintain the proper dosage for the patient's pain, age, weight, and general health.
  • Take it with other medications and substances. Some people mix it on purpose with other drugs to enhance tramadol effects, leading to harmful impacts that can hasten addiction.
  • Take it on purpose for recreational reasons.

Side Effects Of Tramadol Use

Most people that follow their doctor’s guidelines shouldn’t suffer from Tramadol side effects, or mild effects, if any.

People Who Use It in a Risky Manner, However, Are At Risk to Experience the Following Frequent, Unpleasant Consequences:

  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Difficulty with sleeping
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite and nausea
  • Tension and agitation

These are not very dangerous but can be impeding daily life quality. However, people that are addicted or took a significant amount of the active substance in a short period can suffer from more severe side effects.

Tramadol Seizures

Some of the most severe side effects of Tramadol include seizures. Although Tramadol seizures are a rare side effect, it is one that many people have experienced, and it isn’t necessarily when someone abuses the drug. It has happened at both high and low doses.

Man experienced a seizure as Tramadol side effect.

A 3 year-long study into Tramadol-induced seizures showed that the neurotoxicity of it usually manifests within the first 24 hours of the patient taking the drug in their treatment, which is generally when the seizures happen. The seizures can occur with or without other substances present in the patient’s system. However, most of the subjects did have other substances present in their system, which could also be the cause of them.

Serotonin syndrome

Ultram shouldn’t be taken if the patient is already taking any Monoamine oxidase inhibitors like Zyvox, which are usually used in the treatment of depression. If they are mixed, there’s an increased chance of the patient developing serotonin syndrome.

Serotonin Syndrome occurs when there is an excess of serotonin in your body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that controls many major functions of the body, such as breathing, digestion, blood flow, and body temperature.

A doctor and medical health professionals prescribing it need to make sure that the patient or their caregiver has all the information about all the potential side effects of Tramadol alone. They should also know about the dangers of mixing Tramadol with other medications, along with information about Tramadol warnings issued by the FDA. Patients should also make sure their doctor or medical health professional has information about any other medications or substances they are taking or might have taken in the recent past. This way, they can rule out any potential risks of suffering tramadol side effects.

It is also essential that the patient informs their doctor if they are experiencing any symptoms that sound like the Ultram side effects at any point.

Long-Term Consequences of Tramadol Use

Many doctors prefer not to prescribe it for an extended period. They recommend switching between various painkillers for irregular periods to prevent the body from getting used to any of the drugs. This is because long-term side effects appear even if people are aware of Tramadol warnings and do not use the drug recreationally.

Sick ill depressed woman taking a pill.

One of the risk factors is extended use; even when consumed in a standard, prescribed dosage and frequency and solely for medicinal purposes, it can slowly induce brain changes. Depending on the length of use, some of the changes may be irreversible.

The Most Common Risks and Long-Term Tramadol Side Effects Are:

  • Cognitive decline. Many opioid substances gradually impact complex cognition. People's overall reaction times become slower. Memory is affected, especially short-term memory. Difficulties with attention span and time estimation appear. The person could become a danger to the environment, especially when driving a car. At first, these changes can be a direct result of artificial imbalance. In that case, withdrawal could restore the original cognitive skills. But if its consumption lasts for several years, it might not be possible to reverse the cognitive impairment.
  • Tolerance. Prolonged use of the same active substance leads to a risk of habituation. That means that the brain can increase its tolerance to the drug: attaining the same pain relief effect requires larger doses.
  • Physical dependence. The growth of tolerance leads to physical dependence. Dependence is reversible and manifests itself very clearly during withdrawal periods. That is when one can observe to what extent the body learned to rely on the drug.
  • Addiction. If physical dependence is relatively easy and quick to treat, it is not so simple with addiction. Not all physically dependent people are addicts. But those who do show addiction signs.

Tramadol Warnings and Contraindications

The FDA has issued a “black box warning” for Tramadol. It shows that the drug carries a significant risk of severe or even life-threatening side effects. The tramadol warnings include that taking it can put the patient’s health at risk for life-threatening respiratory depression and neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome. Moreover, with drug misuse, there’s a chance for addiction. They have also added that if it is taken along with any other central nervous system depressants or substances like alcohol, it could result in the person slipping into a coma or even death. Any signs or symptoms of loss of consciousness should be reported to a doctor immediately.

Contraindications for Tramadol:

Since Tramadol is a drug that can’t be bought over the counter, the FDA has several contraindications on its use.

Below Are a Few:

  • Tramadol cannot be used by children under 12, neither for cough nor pain.
  • They have also issued a warning for its use for people under the age of 18. Specifying that it shouldn't be prescribed to anyone under the age of 18 who has just undergone removal of tonsils or adenoid operation.
  • The FDA recommends against prescribing Ultram to teens aged 12 to 18 that are obese, have sleep apnea, or any severe lung diseases as Tramadol has the potential of making their conditions worse.
  • The FDA also issued a warning to breastfeeding mothers not to use Ultram because there is an increased risk of reactions in breastfed babies. The drugs can also affect the mother, causing difficulty in breastfeeding, breathing problems, excessive drowsiness, or even death.

Stopping Tramadol Abuse

The problem with Tramadol is that many people don’t realize that they have an addiction problem. Because Ultram is a legal medication, there is no stigma of drug abuse or risk of addiction. Sadly, that leads numerous uninformed or negligent people to continue using the substance. Luckily, there are treatment centers available for addiction to Ultram and other opioids.

During such a rehab program, the first thing to do is to get clean of the drug. That is, overcoming physical dependence. It usually shouldn’t take more than two weeks and is not particularly dangerous. But unpleasant withdrawal effects will occur.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Tramadol Cause Constipation?

Yes, Ultram use can cause constipation. It is usually mild but can be on the severe side as well. The severity varies from person to person. This happens because opioids can alter the way digestion works. People may experience constipation or diarrhea as one of the common symptoms of Ultram side effects while taking it.

Does Tramadol Make You Sleepy?

Yes, Ultram can make you extremely sleepy. Two of the most common side effects of using these medications include drowsiness and excessive sleepiness. It is advised that patients do not drive or do anything that requires focus right after taking the medicines as symptoms could appear out of nowhere.

Does Tramadol Make You Itch?

A less common but intense side effect of taking this drug is itching. Some people end up developing an allergy to it, which can make them break out in hives. Discontinuing use with the help of a doctor is usually enough to make the itch go away.

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Page Sources

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Published on: November 30th, 2016

Updated on: April 13th, 2021

About Author

Roger Weiss, MD

Dr. Roger Weiss is a practicing mental health specialist at the hospital. Dr. Weiss combines his clinical practice and medical writing career since 2009. Apart from these activities, Dr. Weiss also delivers lectures for youth, former addicts, and everyone interested in topics such as substance abuse and treatment.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.