Tramadol and Hip Fracture
Look beyond its reputation before prescribing this widely used medication.
The perception that tramadol is a safer alternative with less dependence risk than other opioids has greatly contributed to its increased use across the world. However, contrary to this belief, tramadol use comes with significant risks that health care providers should consider closely before prescribing to patients. Furthermore, patients who are deemed appropriate for tramadol use should be warned about the growing list of safety concerns associated with its use. Among the issues with tramadol use is a greater risk of hip fractures compared with the risk associated with several other pain medications, according to new reports.
Tramadol Use Overview
Increased Hip Fracture Risk
For their analysis, investigators included patient information for patients aged 50 or older with no history of hip fracture, cancer, or opioid use disorder. The study’s primary outcome measure was incidence of hip fracture during each one-year follow-up period. From the 372,372 patients meeting inclusion criteria, investigators created five propensity score-matched cohorts comparing tramadol use against use of other pain medications including the opioid codeine and the NSAIDs naproxen, ibuprofen, celecoxib, or etoricoxib.
Analyses revealed the risk of hip fracture was higher in those in the tramadol group than those in any of the other medication cohorts. The risk of hip fracture was higher in the tramadol cohort than in naproxen (2.9 per 1,000 person-years for tramadol vs 1.7 per 1,000 person-years for naproxen; HR 1.69, 95% CI, 1.41–2.03), ibuprofen (3.4 per 1,000 person-years for tramadol vs 2 per 1,000 person-years for ibuprofen; HR 1.65, 95% CI, 1.39–1.96), celecoxib (3.4 per 1,000 person-years for tramadol vs 1.8 per 1,000 person-years for celecoxib; HR 1.85, 95% CI, 1.4–2.44), etoricoxib (2.9 per 1,000 person-years for tramadol vs 1.5 per 1,000 person-years for etoricoxib; HR 1.96, 95% CI, 1.34–2.87), and codeine (3.7 per 1,000 person-years for tramadol vs 2.9 per 1,000 person-years for codeine; HR 1.28, 95% CI, 1.13–1.46) cohorts.
In their report of the findings, the study’s investigators suggested the increased risk of hip fracture observed may be related to certain tramadol side effects—including the risk of seizures, dizziness, or delirium—that have been reported in other studies. Furthermore, they indicated that the findings of this study combined with the potential for negative impact on morbidity, higher costs, and overall health associated with hip fracture, suggest that clinical treatment guidelines recommending tramadol use should be reconsidered.
Risk of Prolonged Use
And last year, investigators from a Mayo Clinic study commented that tramadol use may not be the safer, low-risk opioid many consider it to be after finding that patients receiving tramadol for postoperative pain to be at similar or greater risk of prolonged use as those receiving other opioids.4 Using a retrospective analysis of claims data from the OptumLabs Warehouse (commercial insurance and Medicare Advantage patients), the investigators sought to determine the risk to patients who transition from acute to prolonged use of tramadol in opiate-naïve patients treated for postoperative pain using tramadol. For the study, three commonly used definitions of prolonged opioid were used: additional opioid use (defined as at least one opioid fill 90 to 180 days after surgery), persistent opioid use (any span of opioid use starting in the 180 days after surgery and lasting ≥90 days), and CONSORT definition (an opioid use episode starting in the 180 days after surgery that spans ≥90 days and includes either ≥10 opioid fills or ≥120 days’ supply of opioids).
Patients included in the study underwent one of 20 commonly performed surgeries between January 1, 2009, and June 30, 2018. The surgeries were chosen with the aim of including common inpatient and outpatient procedures from multiple specialties and spanning differing degrees of expected postoperative pain. Patients were excluded if they had multiple unrelated procedures on the same day, experienced an inpatient stay longer than seven days, or were admitted as an inpatient more than one day before surgery, and also patients receiving noncancer surgeries if they had cancer. In addition, patients receiving hospice services and those who had a stay in a skilled nursing facility within a day of discharge were also excluded.
524,318 patients met the inclusion requirements, of which 444,764 were followed for at least 180 days and 357,884 had a discharge prescription for one or more opioids. 13,519 (3%) patients received tramadol alone while 5,457 (1.2%) received tramadol along with another short-acting opioid. Women appeared to be more likely to receive tramadol (62.1% of tramadol alone vs 49% of total cohort). Patients discharged with larger prescriptions based on morphine milligram equivalents (MME) were found to have an associated higher risk of prolonged opioid use across all definitions of prolonged use. Receiving 500 MME was associated with nearly five times the risk of prolonged opioid use compared with the receipt of 1 to 199 MME using the CONSORT definition of prolonged use and more than six times the risk of persistent use. Furthermore, receipt of tramadol was also associated with increased adjusted risk across all definitions of prolonged opioid use. Patients receiving tramadol alone had a 6% increased risk of additional opioid use relative to people receiving other short-acting opioids, a 47% increase in the adjusted risk of persistent use, and a 41% increase in the adjusted risk of a CONSORT chronic use episode.
Along with their study findings, the investigators wrote that despite tramadol only being a Schedule IV controlled substance, it has a similar or somewhat greater risk of prolonged opioid use after surgery as do some Schedule II drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. Based on this risk, they suggested that the Drug Enforcement Agency should consider rescheduling tramadol to a level that better reflects its risk for prolonged use.
Increased Risk of ED Visits
When patients begin taking tramadol or increase the dose, they should be counseled to watch for symptoms of serotonin syndrome, which can be reversed if detected early. While serotonin syndrome is most frequently caused by use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants, other drugs can also lead to it, such as opioid analgesics, antibiotics, antimigraine agents, illicit drugs, and over-the-counter drugs alone or in combination. These drugs can interact with tramadol and can increase the risk of serotonin syndrome. Patients taking tramadol should be advised to check with their prescribers or pharmacists before taking new prescriptions, including over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies such as St. John's Wort, nutmeg, or 5-HTP, which are also implicated in possible serotonin syndrome.
Prothrombin Time/International Normalized Ratio Prolongation With Warfarin
In a second study, published in 2015, researchers conducted a retrospective analysis of 334,034 patients (28,110 new users of tramadol and 305,924 new users of codeine) of whom 1,105 were hospitalized for hypoglycemia, with 112 patients dying as a result of hypoglycemia.12 Compared with codeine use, tramadol use was associated with a 52% increased risk of hospitalization. Patients appear to be at the greatest risk of hospitalization due to hypoglycemia during the first 30 days of initiating tramadol. Results of the analysis showed a greater than three-fold increase in hospitalization for hypoglycemia in those patients who had started taking tramadol within the prior 30 days.
— Mark D. Coggins, PharmD, BCGP, FASCP, is vice president of pharmacy services and medication management for skilled nursing centers operated by Diversicare in nine states and is a past director on the board of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists. He was nationally recognized by the Commission for Certification in Geriatric Pharmacy with the 2010 Excellence in Geriatric Pharmacy Practice Award.
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