How Long Do Tramadol Side Effects Last?Anna Ciulla
Tramadol is an opiate analgesic that catapulted into popularity thanks much in part to the misleading messaging that stated it was a safer alternative to other mainstream pain pills. Ironically, the idea that tramadol did not carry high risk of potential addiction turned it into one of the most commonly prescribed in the United States, leading to hundreds of thousands of people who inadvertently fell into opiate abuse and addiction.
Although tramadol is not nearly as potent as some other popular opiates such as fentanyl and oxycodone, regular use and abuse of the drug can carry serious risk of side effects, dependence, and overdose without the help of an inpatient drug rehab. If you have been prescribed these painkillers, it is critical that you are aware of these potential dangers and know what to expect.
So, if you’re wondering how long do tramadol side effects last, read below to find out more about the usage and side effects of this popular pain medication.
As stated, tramadol is a drug known as an opiate agonist analgesic, which is regularly prescribed to patients who experience chronic pain or in post-surgery. This painkiller, which is taken as an oral tablet, is ideal for people dealing with moderate to moderately severe pain. It was initially sold under the name Ultram, but is now marketed as the brand names:
Tramadol is a synthetic opiate that binds to and activates mu-opioid receptors which can be found in the central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, gastrointestinal system, and the spinal cord. These neurotransmitters regulate pain, hormonal release, and feelings of reward and pleasure. Tramadol imitates the chemical structure of biological neurotransmitters and convinces receptors to bind and activate.
Tramadol may be prescribed in one of four forms:
- Immediate-release 50 mg tablets
- Extended-release 100 mg tablets
- Extended-release 200 mg tablets
- Extended-release 300 mg tablets
Extended-release pills are naturally stronger and are typically only prescribed for patients who suffer from chronic pain and need regular and abiding pain relief. There are some who erroneously believe that tramadol is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, but that is not the case. Its side effects are quite different and much more perilous than NSAIDs.
Tramadol is a Schedule IV controlled substance. Therefore, it is limited to a maximum of five refills within six months. Once that number is reached, a new prescription must be written. Tramadol may not be prescribed or given to people under the age of 18 since children are more likely to undergo drug-induced breathing complications, which can be fatal. Further, tramadol is not intended for mothers who are breastfeeding seeing as the drug can hurt infants via the breast milk.
Opiates in the Brain
The human body and reward center of the brain naturally releases neurotransmitters to reward a person for accomplishing an essential biological drive such as:
- Having sex
- Spending time in the sun
When a person completes one of these activities, a biological valve opens up, discharging a burst of dopamine into the reward center of the brain. By lighting up the brain with feelings of pleasure when such activities are accomplished, our brain biologically conditions and encourages us to continue doing these things.
Tramadol enters the bloodstream under the guise of being a natural neurotransmitter and convinces the receptors to galvanize. Unlike natural neurotransmitters though, when tramadol stimulates the receptors, those dopamine levies release a stream rather than the usual trickle, especially if taken in larger than prescribed doses.
Tramadol’s Intended Side Effects
It is vital that a tramadol user administer the drug as intended. It is not ever meant to be split up, chewed, crushed, smoked, or snorted since such things might cause a dangerous amount of the drug to be released into the bloodstream at one time. If you wish to be as safe as possible and avoid addiction or harmful side effects, be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions. Take your medication exactly as directed and follow the prescription’s instructions to stay as safe as possible.
Within an hour of administration, tramadol will interfere with the brain’s ability to send and receive pain signals between it and the nerves. Tramadol’s intended side-effects will typically reach their peak at 2-3 hours and begin to wane after that. By five hours, the communication of pain signals between the brain and the nerves should mostly resume. A patient would then have to take another pill in order to continue the cycle. Such side-effects include:
- Pain blocking – The most obvious symptom, this deadening of communication creates feelings of pain relief for injuries that are moderate to moderately-severe.
- Anti-anxiety – A positive side effect for some tramadol users, in addition to the pain relief, are the anti-anxiety properties of the pill. The combination of tramadol’s euphoric release and the way it slows down the heart and lungs create strong feelings of tranquility, helping to calm worries.
- Vigor – For some users, tramadol’s anti-anxiety effects can excite the brain, giving the user a sense of energy and vigilance that unfortunately encourages many people to abuse the drug for recreational purposes or to work through their pain.
- Euphoria – Especially in larger doses, tramadol’s release of reward signals creates feelings of happiness and euphoria. This rush is the high that encourages many to abuse the drug.
Unpleasant Side Effects
Tramadol’s secondary side effects can be split into three categories: common, less common, and serious. Such symptoms may last anywhere from 4 to 24 hours but could last longer or be stronger depending on the size of the dose and the form of administration.
Common Side Effects
Less Common Side Effects
- Dry Mouth
Serious Side Effects
Although they rarely occur, should you experience the following side effects after taking tramadol, it is critical that you contact medical professionals posthaste.
- Angioedema – This uncommon side effect is an allergic reaction that causes rapid swelling of the area beneath the skin. Such swelling occurs due to fluid accumulation.
- Possibly fatal allergic reactions – A scant few users experience life-threatening allergic reactions which can obstruct breathing or stop the heart.
- Orthostatic hypotension – Tramadol can cause dangerously low blood pressure, especially when standing, leading to heart issues and vertigo.
- Slowed breathing – Tramadol naturally slows down a user’s breathing, but in rare cases, it may slow down lung function to dangerous levels, so much so that they entirely cease pumping.
- Suicidal thoughts or actions – A small percentage of tramadol users will experience side effects that involve thoughts of suicide. If such thoughts persist, be sure to speak to loved ones and medical professionals immediately and do not make any rash decisions.
Long-Term Side Effects
If a person regularly uses or abuses tramadol, far more serious side effects may arise. Such side effects may last anywhere from days to months to years, depending on the type and the scale of tramadol abuse.
- Tolerance: As time progresses and a pattern of tramadol use forms, the user’s brain will adapt to the drug over time. This adaptation involves the brain growing accustomed to tramadol’s properties. After a while, such effects will be less and less potent, meaning that a user will require more of the drug or more frequent administration in order to achieve the same effects, especially if the user is chasing a high.
- Dependence: As tolerance forms, a person may become physically or mentally reliant on the drug to feel normal and deal with pain. A user who becomes physically dependent will experience withdrawal symptoms within hours of the last tramadol application. Such symptoms include:
o Difficulty sleeping
o Muscle aches
o Muscle spasms
o Rapidly beating heart
o Runny nose
o Stomach ache
o Upset stomach
- Seizures – Select tramadol users may experience seizures. The vast majority of such people are those who have epilepsy, although they may occur with people who have never had a seizure previously. High doses of tramadol could increase the likelihood of a seizure. Further, the longer a person takes the drug the more likely it is a seizure occurs.
- Serotonin syndrome – Some tramadol users could experience this syndrome, which can cause mild to severe hyperthermia, agitation, tremors, sweating, muscle rigidity, increased reflexes, diarrhea, vomiting, and dilated pupils. In more severe cases, serotonin syndrome may result in arrhythmia, seizures, loss of consciousness, or death.
- Adrenal insufficiency – Studies have found adrenal insufficiency in chronic tramadol users. For such people, the adrenal and endocrine glands have difficulty producing and releasing various hormones responsible for controlling heart rate, blood pressure, metabolizing nutrients, and sustaining the immune system. This diminished ability to produce such hormones may lead to fatigue, muscle fatigue, and lack of appetite.
- Androgen insufficiency – Long-standing use of tramadol has led to androgen (sex hormone) deficiencies. In most cases, testosterone levels in men precipitously drop, causing problems with metabolism, libido, bone growth and muscle development. Sexual dysfunction can include erectile dysfunction, fertility issues, mood problems, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
- Liver and kidney damage – Lasting tramadol use has been associated with kidney and liver damage, especially in high doses or when combined with alcohol.
- Respiratory Issues – Although the chance of respiratory failure is not as high as with other opiates such as oxycodone or fentanyl, tramadol can slow down breathing, leading to bewilderment, fainting, or vertigo. The danger of breathing complications increases when tramadol is combined with benzos or alcohol.
- Behavioral Issues – Tramadol addiction carries a whole host of behavioral changes and psychological consequences in pursuit of chasing an opiate high. This preoccupation with drug seeking can have lasting results due to a neglect of responsibilities and an inability to maintain social and interpersonal relationships. Such problems may include:
o Broken relationships with family
o Ruined friendships
o Being fired from work
o Financial woes
o Failing health
o Criminal behavior
These problems caused by addiction could forever alter your employment, career, goals, and close bonds. Quite often, hobbies, personal care, and other important routines will fall by the wayside in the name of drug seeking.
- Inability to handle pain – Over time and regular tramadol use, a person may have an increasingly difficult time managing even minor pains without the aid of the drug. The body’s ability to produce its natural painkilling hormones is severely hindered by disuse. As a result, even something as minor as a stubbed toe can cause serious discomfort, causing a person to yearn for tramadol to relieve the pain.
Threat of Withdrawal
One of the most unpleasant and dangerous side effects of tramadol dependence are withdrawals. Withdrawals occur when opiates are no longer within the bloodstream. In response, the body has trouble functioning, seeing as it has grown accustomed to and adapted to the opiate’s presence. Severity and length of withdrawal side effects are dependent on various factors including:
- Height and weight
- Family drug history
- Mental health issues
- Size of dosage and frequency of tramadol intake
- Form of administration
- Other drug usage, especially alcohol or benzodiazepines
If you realize that you abuse tramadol, it is essential that you seek help immediately. While it is understandable that many fear the uncomfortable feelings that come with a drug detox, unfortunately, far too many people allow that dread over ten days of discomfort to convince them to not do anything about their addiction for years. In the end, waiting only allows a catastrophe to build.
While the initial side effects of tramadol may only last a few hours, the longer-term side effects of continued abuse can last for years. For those of you who are convinced that they need to take action, it is critical that you do so under the care of a medical team at an inpatient drug rehab facility such as Beach House Recovery. Opiate withdrawals can be quite uncomfortable, and possibly dangerous, so it is wise to have a knowledgeable team there to support you through the process. For more information on our long-term residential treatment program for substance abuse, please call Beach House Recovery today.
- Hindawi, “Tramadol Induced Adrenal Insufficiency: Histological, Immunohistochemical, Ultrastructural, and Biochemical Genetic Experimental Study.” https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jt/2017/9815853/
- NCBI, “Tramadol.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3652964/
- Harvard Drug Group, “Tramadol.” https://www.theharvarddruggroup.com/shop/item/get-details/pkid/812075