Both tramadol and hydrocodone are strong pain relievers, but tramadol works by directly changing the way your body perceives pain, whereas hydrocodone works by altering the way the brain responds to pain, according to Everyday Health. Tramadol is classified as an opiate agonist, and hydrocodone is classified as an opiate analgesic. Both medications are habit forming and contraindicated when pregnant or breastfeeding.
Drugs.com states that tramadol works in two ways to treat moderate to severe pain. First, it works like an opiate by binding to receptors in the brain and spinal cord to reduce pain. Second, it increases the availability of some chemicals in the nervous system to reduce anxiety and related pain. Tramadol is available in regular- and extended-release products. It is not suitable for patients with breathing problems and gastrointestinal problems, and it should not be combined with alcohol, narcotics, sleeping pills, muscle relaxers or anti-depressants. Common side effects include headaches, constipation, anxiety and itchy skin. In rare cases tramadol causes seizures.
Hydrocodone is a narcotic that attached directly to receptors in the brain to minimize pain, according to Drugs.com. Like tramadol, hydrocodone is available in regular- and extended-release formulas, and it should not be taken by those with breathing or gastrointestinal problems. It also is dangerous if combined with alcohol, narcotics, muscle relaxers or anti-depressants. Common side effects include constipation, a dry mouth, itchy skin, swollen hands and feet, cold symptoms, drowsiness and headaches. In rare cases, hydrocodone causes serious breathing or kidney problems.