Tramadol users are at greater risk for developing hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, according to a new paper, published by Scientific Reports, researchers at Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California San Diego. As tramadol has grown in popularity, there were many documented cases of side effects among its users. Since its approval in 1995, the opioid tramadol (marketed as ConZip and Ultram) has become a widely prescribed remedy for osteoarthritis and other painful indications, in part because it presents a lesser risk for some side effects and has a lower abuse potential when compared to other opioids. It is currently ranked among the top five prescribed opioids and top 60 prescribed medications in the country.
‘Physicians should keep in mind the likelihood of low blood sugar or high insulin content while prescribing Tramadol especially if the patient is more prone to diabetes.’The research team, led by senior author Ruben Abagyan, PhD, professor of pharmacy, analyzed more than 12 million reports from the FDA Adverse Effect Reporting System (FAERS) and Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS) databases, which chronicle voluntary reports of adverse effects while taking a medication. The period studied ranged from January 2004 to March 2019.
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"The impetus was the recent dramatic surge in tramadol popularity and prescriptions," said first author Tigran Makunts, PharmD, a researcher in Abagyan's lab. "We wanted to have an objective data-driven look at its adverse effects and bumped into a dangerous, unlisted and unexpected hypoglycemia."
Recognized adverse drug reactions associated with tramadol include dizziness, nausea, headaches and constipation -- all common side effects of opioids. More serious but rarer adverse drug reactions include serotonin syndrome and increased seizure risk. The link to hypoglycemia is relatively new, though it had been previously suggested by case studies and animal model testing.
Hypoglycemia is often related to the treatment of diabetes, but can also occur in persons without diabetes. Untreated, hypoglycemia can lead to serious complications of its own, such as neurocognitive dysfunction, vision loss, greater risk of falls and loss of quality of life.
The researchers also looked at other widely prescribed opioids and similar acting, non-opioid medications, such serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (Cymbalta, Effexor XR) and NMDA receptors (ketamine and memantine). Only tramadol produced a significant risk of developing hypoglycemia in patients.
While this study underscores an association between tramadol and hypoglycemia, a large, randomized, controlled clinical trial would be needed to definitively establish causality.