What are Common Side Effects of Nicotine Patches?

Susan Grindstaff

Most reported side effects of nicotine patches seem to be minor, such as headache, dizziness, and nausea. Some users report problems with sleeping, including disturbing dreams and difficulty falling asleep. Another common complaint is irritation and swelling around the area where the patch is placed. Sometimes the side effects of nicotine patches can be severe and are usually associated with an allergic reaction to the drug. In these cases, difficulty breathing, hives, and swelling in the facial area have been reported.

Headaches are a common side effect of nicotine patches.
Headaches are a common side effect of nicotine patches.

Many studies have been conducted to better understand the safety and side effects of nicotine patches. Initially, it was believed that the patches might be dangerous for smokers who also suffered from heart disease. This concern stemmed from the belief that the process of delivering nicotine through the skin is less controlled than actual smoking. If too much nicotine is delivered at once, these smokers could be at risk for a heart attack. Studies, however, seem to indicate that fluctuations in delivery levels did not pose a severe enough risk to prohibit the use of nicotine patches for cardiovascular patients.

An allergic reaction to nicotine patches may include the development of hives.
An allergic reaction to nicotine patches may include the development of hives.

Of special concern to researchers were the side effects of nicotine patches when used by pregnant women or women who were nursing. Studies seemed to show that the side effects of nicotine patches were no different or severe for pregnant women than they are in the general population. Most health care professionals advocate that pregnant women should discontinue their use of tobacco. Since the concern is primarily due to nicotine in the bloodstream, nicotine patches pose much the same health risks as smoking. Most physicians recommend that pregnant and nursing women attempt to quit smoking without the use of other nicotine delivery methods.

If too much nicotine is delivered at once, individuals can be at risk for heart problems.
If too much nicotine is delivered at once, individuals can be at risk for heart problems.

One of the biggest risks generally associated with nicotine patches involves people who smoke while using the patch. This can result in an overdose of nicotine, which can cause side effects such as vomiting, severe headache, and in rare cases even death. For this reason, most doctors recommend that patients who cannot control smoking should abandon their use of the patch.

The nicotine patch delivers a slow and steady stream of nicotine into the bloodstream throughout the day.
The nicotine patch delivers a slow and steady stream of nicotine into the bloodstream throughout the day.

Nicotine patches are available at most drug stores. They can be purchased without prescription as an over-the-counter medication. Smokers who have underlying health conditions should probably consult with their doctor before beginning any type of nicotine therapy. Special nicotine patches are available for high-risk groups, such as cardiovascular patients, but they are only available with a prescription from a doctor.

Smoking while using products like nicotine gum and patches could lead to a nicotine overdose.
Smoking while using products like nicotine gum and patches could lead to a nicotine overdose.

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