Tramadol is a prescription opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain. It’s sold under the brand names Ultram and Conzip.

Tramadol is often prescribed for pain after surgery. It may also be prescribed for chronic pain caused by conditions such as cancer or neuropathy.

Tramadol can be habit-forming. In other words, it can sometimes lead to dependence. This is more likely if you take tramadol for a long time, or if it’s not taken exactly as prescribed.

Read on to find out how this medication works and how long it typically stays in your system.

Tramadol is similar to other prescription pain medications, such as codeine, hydrocodone, and morphine. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain to block pain signals.

Tramadol has other effects as well. It increases the effects of serotonin and norepinephrine, two important chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain. Both play a role in pain perception.

The purpose of pain relief is to help you function better in your day-to-day life. Pain medications, like tramadol, don’t fix what’s causing your pain. Often, they don’t take the pain away completely, either.

Yes. Tramadol is available in different forms, including tablets and capsules. Outside of the United States, it’s also available as drops or injections.

Tramadol injections and drops, along with some types of tablets and capsules, are fast-acting. They start working in 30 to 60 minutes. Their effects wear off within 4 to 6 hours.

Fast-acting tramadol comes in doses of 50 to 100 milligrams (mg). It’s usually prescribed for short-term (acute) pain.

Time-release or slow-acting forms of tramadol include tablets and capsules. They take longer to start working, but their effects last for 12 or 24 hours. During that time, tramadol is released gradually.

Time-release tramadol comes in doses between 100 and 300 mg. This type is more likely to be prescribed for long-term (chronic) pain.

Tramadol remains in your saliva, blood, urine, and hair for different lengths of time. Some of these are the same for other opioid drugs and not specific to tramadol.

Detection timeframes

  • Saliva: Tramadol is detectable in saliva for up to 48 hours after it’s taken.
  • Blood: Tramadol is detectable in blood for up to 48 hours after it’s taken.
  • Urine: Tramadol is detectable in urine for 24 to 72 hours after it’s taken.
  • Hair: Tramadol is detectable in hair for 30 to 90 days after it’s taken.
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Keep in mind that most basic drug tests, including 5- and 10-panel tests, do not screen for tramadol. However, it is possible to order a special test for prescription pain drugs, including tramadol.

A lot of different factors can affect how long tramadol stays in your body. These include:

  • How much you took (dosage). The higher the dose, the longer tramadol will stay in your system.
  • How often you take tramadol. In general, a single dose will stay in your system for the shortest amount of time. If you took more than one dose, or take tramadol on a regular basis, it stays in your system for a longer period of time.
  • How you took it (route of administration). In general, tramadol drops or injections are absorbed and excreted faster than pill forms of the medication.
  • Your metabolism. Metabolism refers to the chemical process of breaking down substances that you ingest, such as food or medication. Your metabolic rate can be affected by many things, including your activity level, age, diet, body composition, and genetics. Having a slow metabolism may increase the amount of time it takes to break down tramadol.
  • Your organ function. Reduced kidney or liver function can increase the amount of time it takes for your body to get rid of tramadol.
  • Your age. If you’re over 75, it may take your body longer to get rid of tramadol.

Tramadol comes with a risk of mild to severe side effects.

In general, the risk of side effects increases according to how much you take. If you take more than prescribed, you’re also increasing your risk of side effects.

More common side effects of tramadol include:

  • constipation
  • depressed mood
  • dizziness
  • sedation or fatigue
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • irritability
  • itching
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sweating
  • weakness

Other side effects are less common, but may be serious. They can include:

  • slowed breathing
  • adrenal insufficiency
  • low levels of androgen (male) hormones
  • seizures
  • serotonin syndrome
  • suicidal thoughts
  • overdose

Tramadol use comes with additional risks. These include:

Dependence and withdrawal. Tramadol is habit-forming, which means that you can become dependent on it. If this happens and you stop taking it, you might experience withdrawal symptoms. You can avoid this by gradually reducing your dose. If you’re worried about tramadol dependence, talk to your doctor.

Drug interactions. Tramadol may interact with other medications you’re taking. This can reduce tramadol’s effectiveness and in some cases, cause serious side effects. You shouldn’t drink alcohol or use certain drugs while taking tramadol. Make sure your doctor knows what you’re taking.

Life-threatening effects for children and pets. Tramadol is processed differently by children, dogs, and cats. If you’re taking tramadol, keep it in a safe and secure place. If tramadol is ingested by a child or pet, it can cause serious side effects, including death.

Life-threatening effects for developing fetuses. If you’re pregnant, taking tramadol can harm your baby. Let your doctor know immediately if you are or think you might be pregnant. Tramadol can also reach your baby through your breastmilk. Avoid breastfeeding while taking tramadol.

Impairment. Tramadol can impair your memory. It can also affect the way you process visual and spatial details. Avoid driving or operating machinery while taking tramadol.

If you’re taking tramadol, it’s important to take the time to read the warnings on the label, and to talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns or questions.

Tramadol is a synthetic opioid that’s often prescribed for pain after surgery and for other types of chronic pain conditions.

Tramadol can stay in your system for up to 72 hours. The amount of time it takes to exit your system can be affected by many different factors, such as the dosage, the way you took it, and even your metabolism.

To reduce the risk of dependence, it’s important to only take tramadol for a short period of time, and exactly as directed. Besides the risk of dependence, there are other side effects such as constipation, fatigue, changes in mood, and nausea.

It’s important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns about tramadol.