Tramadol is an analgesic medication that acts within the brain to dull the sensation of pain. Since it is a non-narcotic pain killer and can be taken long term without addiction, tramadol is often used for chronic pain. Tramadol is also sold under the brand name of Ultram. The extended release formula of Ultram ER is the equivalent of Tramadol HCL.
Tramadol HCL contains the same medication as tramadol, but its mechanism is the different. Tramadol is sold in 50 and 100 mg tablets. Pills are taken every four to six hours with a maximum dose of 400 mg a day. Tramadol HCL is an extended release tablet that is taken once every 24 hours. It comes in doses of 100, 200, 300 and 400 mg. One pill will continue to work throughout the day and night.
Tramadol and tramadol HCL are used for the same purpose--pain. Tramadol is more likely to be used when pain begins while someone taking tramadol HCL will take it at the same time each day before there is a sign of pain. Both tramadol and tramadol HCL are prescribed for pain that is moderate to severe, when an over-the-counter pain reliever is not enough.
Tramadol is the generic form of Ultram and is relatively inexpensive in its standard and extended release forms. You can purchase 30 pills of tramadol HCL, the more expensive of the two forms, for under $20 on Drugstore.com (in 2009). Keep in mind that each tablet of tramadol HCL last for a day, while a pill of tramadol only work for four to six hours.
For a painful long term condition like fibromyalgia, chronic back pain or osteoarthritis, tramadol HCL would be a better choice. Since it is long acting, there are fewer pills to take and the patient is not left waiting for a pill to work. If pain is short term or intermittent from surgery or an injury, tramadol would be a better choice as the dose can be adjusted every four to six hours.
Both tramadol and tramadol HCL are not without risk. They should be taken with caution in conjunction with muscle relaxers, certain medication for nausea and antidepressants. This even includes supplements like St. John’s Wort which can act like an antidepressant. Tramadol can also increase the risk for seizure so it should be avoided by those who have had seizures. Though tramadol is not addicting, it can be habit-forming and should be used under the direction of a health professional.