Surprising Side Effects Of Nicotine Patches

Millions of people use smoking cessation products, but few know about the side effects of nicotine patches. Just like nicotine gum and lozenges, the patch is available without a prescription. Once applied to the skin, it releases a small but steady amount of nicotine over 16 or 24 hours. The 16-hour patch is suitable for light-to-moderate smokers, states the American Cancer Society. The 24-hour patch, on the other hand, might be a better choice for heavy smokers because it delivers nicotine around the clock. On the negative side, it carries a higher risk of adverse reactions.

A 2016 study published in BMJ Open suggests that smokers make at least 30 attempts to quit cigarettes before being successful. Irritability, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, hunger, and other nicotine withdrawal symptoms can ruin your best intentions to kick this habit. Some smokers also experience diminished mental focus, constipation, or stomach pain in the first few weeks after quitting, reports the Institute for Health and Recovery.

Nicotine patches may help with these symptoms, but they also carry potential risks. Plus, they may not be safe for everyone. For example, Insider notes that smokers with a history of heart disease or high blood pressure should not use these products. The same goes for those with type I diabetes, kidney or liver disease, peptic ulcers, and other conditions.

You may have insomnia or unusually vivid dreams

Smoking cessation products may cause chest pain, headaches, palpitations, and other adverse reactions. One of the most common side effects of nicotine patches is skin irritation, which affects about 20% of smokers (per Tobacco Induced Diseases). Surprisingly, the 24-hour patch can also interfere with your sleep and cause unusual dreams, warns the Government of Alberta.

Nicotine in any form can keep you from getting a good night's rest, says Sleepstation. This addictive substance increases the release of dopamine, serotonin, and other "feel-good" chemicals. Plasma nicotine concentrations fluctuate throughout the day, reaching the lowest level in the morning, according to Global Tobacco Control. These fluctuations can affect neurotransmitter levels in the brain and mess up your internal clock.

Most smokers take longer to fall asleep and get less shut-eye than people who don't smoke (via Sleepstation). On top of that, nicotine may worsen asthma and other health problems linked to poor sleep. Smoking cessation products can have similar effects — it all comes down to how your body responds to nicotine. The Government of Alberta recommends removing your patch a few hours before bedtime to prevent insomnia. Another option is to use a 16-hour patch, as it's less likely to cause sleep disturbances (via the American Cancer Society).

Nicotine patches may cause muscle aches

Cigarette smoking affects bone and muscle health, according to a 2013 review published in Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal. In the long run, this habit may contribute to vertebral and hip fractures, back pain, arthritis, muscle pain, and strength loss. What you may not know is that nicotine patches can cause muscle aches and stiffness, too (per the American Cancer Society).

Current evidence suggests that nicotine might be the culprit. "Because nicotine can alter the size of the blood vessels and the ability for the body to adapt, that can cause increased damage to the ligaments as well as muscles within the spine region," says rehabilitation specialist Anand Navarasala (via Franciscan Health). He also explains that nicotine reduces blood flow to the muscles surrounding your spine, which in turn may cause pain and discomfort.

The patch delivers anywhere between 5 and 22 milligrams of nicotine, depending on its strength (via the American Cancer Society). That's significantly less nicotine compared to cigarettes, but you may still have muscle pain and soreness where the patch is applied. Other side effects of nicotine patches may include joint pain, period pain, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, or diarrhea, reports WebMD. If you experience any of these problems, consider switching to a weaker patch. Some symptoms, such as headaches, fast or irregular heartbeat, diarrhea, and shaking, could indicate that you are getting too much nicotine, warns the American Cancer Society. 

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).