Guide to nicotine patches with details on the advantages and disadvantages.

nicotine patches
What are nicotine patches?
Nicotine patches are another form of nicotine replacement therapy that come in the form of a big plaster and are stuck onto the skin.

Small doses of nicotine are slowly and steadily released and absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin. As the body has a constant supply of nicotine, the cravings to smoke are lessened and the withdrawal symptoms are minimal.

Some patches are worn throughout the day, for up to 16 hours and are removed at night, so that sleeping patterns are not disturbed whilst others can be worn for 24 hours but are changed the next morning. These 24-hour patches are designed for smokers who tend to have their first cigarette shortly after waking.

How do nicotine patches work?

The course of treatment should ideally last for 12 weeks after which you should have weaned yourself off the nicotine, be able to stop using the patches and not return to smoking cigarettes.

For the first 8 weeks the smoker, in most cases, would use the 15mg patches, which are the strongest. One patch is applied in the morning, at the same time every day if possible, to a dry, hairless, clean and non-irritated area of skin on the upper arm, chest, back or hip.

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The patch is worn all day and removed at night (16 hour patches). The next morning, a new patch should be applied to a different area of skin to avoid skin irritations.

If after 8 weeks you have managed not to smoke, you can start to use the 10mg patches for a further two weeks and for the final two weeks after that, the 5mg patches. By this time the nicotine intake is so small that you should be able to stop the treatment completely and not have any urges to smoke.

Nicotine patches only address and help with the physical cravings. In order to manage the psychological or behavioural cravings, you will need to change your routine and stop doing the things that you associate with smoking and try to occupy that time with something else. Being aware of when you smoke and why will help. However if the urge to smoke is just too strong, it may be a good idea to seek professional counselling.

What is the success rate?

If the smoker is motivated to quit smoking and has given proper thought and planning to the event, using nicotine patches can highly increase the chances of giving up for good by around 50% or more.

For the best results, it is advised to start off with the higher strength patches and gradually drop down to the lower strength patches after a number of weeks.

Is this method safe?

Nicotine patches are perfectly safe for the majority of people, however, if any of the following applies to you, you should consult your doctor before using this type or any type, for that matter, of NRT.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • If you have any form of heart disease or have suffered a stroke or heart attack.
  • If you have any serious medical problem, such as diabetes, kidney or liver problems, a stomach ulcer or an overactive thyroid.
  • If you have or are prone to skin allergies or irritations.
  • If you are under the age of 18.
If you are using a nicotine patch, it is absolutely vital that you do not smoke. It is not safe to remove the patch and then have a cigarette either. This can cause a nicotine overdose, which could lead to being severely ill or even death.

Also make sure that the old patches are properly disposed of, as if a child or pet ingests some of the nicotine, it could be quite harmful and they may need medical treatment.

Are there any side effects?

The main side effect that you may experience on using nicotine patches is a skin rash or irritation in the area where the patch has been applied. This is why it is a good idea to apply the patch to a different site each day, to avoid this from happening. People with sensitive skin or who are prone to skin rashes or eczema may find that a different form of nicotine replacement therapy is more suitable for them.

Other possible side effects include difficulty in sleeping, vivid dreams, nausea, diarrhoea, headache, or a swelling on the patch site. These symptoms should disappear once the body has got used to the medication.

If any of these symptoms persist, or any other symptoms occur, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.

What are the advantages of using this method?

  • The patches are simple to use and apply.
  • This method has proven to be very effective.
  • The withdrawal symptoms and cravings are managed well.
  • The patches come in various strengths.
  • You apply the patch once in the morning and leave it for the rest of the day.
  • A week's supply costs more or less the same as a week's supply of cigarettes.
  • The patches are discreet and can be hidden under clothes.

Are there any disadvantages?

  • The patches may irritate the skin.
  • Side effects may occur.
  • The patches may react with any other medications you are taking.
  • You may forget to remove the patch at night or apply a new one in the morning.
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