Is the Nicotine Patch a Good Way to Stop Smoking?

Nicotine Patch

Is the Nicotine Patch a Good Way to Stop Smoking?

Congratulations on your decision to quit smoking! This is called smoking cessation. Quitting is the best thing you can do to improve your heath. It lowers your risk of cancer and heart disease.

It also improves your quality of life. You’ll be able to breathe better and be more active. Not smoking improves your appearance, too. You’ll have whiter teeth, fresher breath, and younger-looking skin.

Several tools can help you quit smoking. Many are nicotine-based products that help you reduce your dependence on nicotine over time. The nicotine patch is a popular smoking cessation tool. You wear the patch on your skin. The patch slowly releases nicotine into your system. This helps your body get used to having less and less nicotine over time.

Follow these instructions to use the patch correctly.

  • Stop smoking on the day you start using the patch.
  • Do not smoke or use other forms of tobacco while using the patch. This can lead to health problems.
  • Do not let anyone else use your patch.
  • Keep the patch away from children and pets.
  • Talk to you doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and want to use the patch.
  • Talk to your doctor before using the patch if you are younger than 18 years old.

Path to improved well being

Quitting smoking is not easy. You can improve your odds for quitting by consulting your doctor about which smoking cessation method works best for you. If you and your doctor decide that the nicotine patch is best for you, follow directions while using it. Here are some things to consider:

What do I need to tell my doctor?

Tell your doctor if you take any medicines. The patch may change how some medicines work. Also, tell your doctor if you have any illnesses, including the following:

  • Chest pains or a recent heart attack.
  • Heart disease.
  • Stomach ulcers.
  • Thyroid disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Skipped or an irregular heartbeat.
  • Allergies to tape, bandages, or medicines.
  • Skin rashes or skin diseases.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Kidney or liver disease.

My skin tingles under the patch. Is that normal?

It is normal to feel mild tingling, itching, or burning when you put the patch on. This feeling usually lasts 15 minutes to 1 hour. When you take off an old patch, your skin may be red where the patch was. Your skin should not stay red for more than 1 day. If the skin stays red for 4 days, or if it gets swollen or sore, do not put on a new patch. Call your doctor.

Can I wear the patch in the shower?

You can wear your patch when you bathe, shower, swim, or soak in a hot tub. Water will not harm the patch as long as it is firmly in place.

What if the patch falls off?

If your patch comes off, put a new one on a different area of skin. Change it again at the usual time the next day.


  • Open the sealed package only when you are ready to put on a patch.
  • Peel the protective cover off the patch and throw the cover away. Try not to touch the sticky side of the patch (the side with the protective cover).
  • Put one patch on a clean, dry area of skin on your upper body that isn’t covered with hair, such as your stomach, upper arm or side. Do not put the patch on burned, cut, or sore skin.
  • To apply the patch, place the sticky side on your skin and press it firmly with the palm of your hand for 10 seconds. Make sure the patch is flat and smooth against your skin.
  • Wash your hands after putting on the patch. Nicotine on your hands could get into your eyes or nose and cause stinging or other problems. Or you could accidentally transfer the nicotine to others you come into contact with.
  • Wear the patch for the amount of time shown on the package. Most patches are worn for 16 or 24 hours. If you have sleep problems when you have the patch on, you can take it off at bedtime and put on a new patch in the morning.
  • When you take off the old patch, fold it in half with the sticky sides together. Put the old patch in the package from the new patch or in the disposal tray provided. Put the package or tray in the trash where children and pets cannot find it.
  • Put the next patch on a different area of skin. Use a different area each day. You can use a previously used area again after waiting 1 week.

Things to consider

The nicotine patch may not be the nicotine replacement for you if you have sensitive skin or other skin problems. You also will not be able to use the nicotine patch if you are allergic to adhesive tape.

You may have trouble sleeping while using the nicotine patch. You may also have abnormal dreams or dreams that are more vivid than usual.

You should not suddenly stop using the patch. Doing so can cause you to go through nicotine withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms include:.

  • Nervousness.
  • Increased appetite/weight gain.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • General anxiety.
  • Sleep interference.

When to see a doctor

Call your doctor if you experience any of the following while using the patch. These could be signs that you are getting too much nicotine (an overdose) from the patch. If you experience any of these problems, take off the patch and call your doctor right away.

  • dizziness
  • upset stomach
  • bad headaches
  • vomiting
  • cold sweats
  • drooling
  • confusion
  • blurred vision
  • hearing problems
  • weakness or fainting

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Can the nicotine patch help me quit smoking?
  • Do you recommend one brand of nicotine patch over another?
  • Are there different strength nicotine patches? If so, which strength should I use?
  • Can I use the nicotine patch as long as I have cravings?
  • How long after my last cigarette should I wait before applying the patch?
  • Will the patch help keep me from gaining weight when I quit smoking?


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Learn About Nicotine Replacement Therapy

National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Nicotine Transdermal Patch

Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


A Guide to Using the Nicotine Patch

Is the Nicotine Patch a Good Way to Stop Smoking?

Although an estimated 70 percent of smokers want to quit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, stress, and associated weight gain can all thwart their ability to kick the habit.

(Nicotine is a particularly addictive drug that’s an ingredient in cigarettes; withdrawal symptoms include headaches and anxiety.

) The good news is that there are many tools at your disposal to help you quit and stay that way — and when you combine them, they may be even more effective.

One of these tools is the nicotine patch, a type of nicotine replacement therapy that works by releasing a measured dose of nicotine into the skin, helping to wean smokers off their nicotine addiction and lessen the effects of nicotine withdrawal. Here’s what you need to know about trying it for yourself.

Where Can I Find a Nicotine Patch?

Before the Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter sale of nicotine patches in 1996, they were available only by prescription; now you can buy a supply at a wide variety of stores, for about $4 a day.

Most nicotine patches are made for 24-hour use, says Humberto Choi, MD, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic. But some people may decide to take the patch off before they go to bed, so they wear it only around 16 hours a day.

Leaving the patch on for the full 24 hours can help provide you with a steady dose of nicotine, but you might be more ly to experience a side effect skin irritation, too. The trade-off is that some people who don’t wear the patch overnight may experience more cigarette cravings in the morning.

RELATED: You Don't Have to Lose Your Smoking Friends When You Quit

The Right Way to Apply a Nicotine Patch

A nicotine patch looks much an adhesive bandage and comes in a variety of sizes.

You’ll put it on in the morning, on a clean, dry, and relatively hairless part of the body between the neck and the waist — for example, on the upper arm or the chest.

The patch should be changed daily, and when you apply a new one, be sure to choose a different location to avoid any related skin irritation.

Once you apply a nicotine patch, you’ll wear it continuously throughout the dosage period. Because it takes a few hours for the nicotine in the patch to seep into the bloodstream, says Dr. Choi, you might want to combat any immediate cravings with a piece of nicotine gum or a nicotine lozenge.

Nicotine patches are generally used as part of an eight-week smoking cessation program, which may follow this pattern:

  • Weeks 1-4: You’ll wear a nicotine patch that delivers a strong dose of nicotine — for example, 15 to 21 milligrams (mg) per day.
  • Weeks 5-8: You’ll switch to a weaker patch, one that may deliver 5 to 14 mg per day.

Side Effects of the Nicotine Patch

Most smokers get real relief from the nicotine patch — but they can also experience some side effects. These may include:

  • Skin irritation Some people’s skin may become irritated under the patch. Choosing a new skin site each day usually helps alleviate this problem; if it continues, you can consider switching to another brand of patch.
  • Sleep disturbances Some people using the patch report disruptions to their sleep, such as vivid dreams, insomnia, and other disturbances. If your sleep is still affected after three or four days of using a nicotine patch, try taking the patch off after 16 hours to give your skin a rest.
  • Racing heartbeat and dizziness If this occurs, stop using the patch immediately and talk to your doctor about switching to a lower-dose patch. According to a research review published in 2012 by the Cochrane Collaboration, nicotine replacement therapy doesn’t increase a smoker’s risk of having heart problems if he or she has a history of heart disease. However, if you do have a history of heart disease, be sure to use a nicotine patch under your doctor’s guidance.
  • Pain and nausea This includes headaches, muscle aches, and vomiting.

Choi cautions, though, that some of these symptoms may not be due to nicotine replacement therapy but to nicotine withdrawal itself. So be sure to talk to your doctor about the symptoms you’re experiencing; he or she can help you pinpoint the cause.

Additional reporting by Maria Masters


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