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Patch it up
Treatment that’s easier to swallow?

» The bottom line

For some people, swallowing pills can be difficult. For others, taking medication every day can be an annoyance. But a patch form of the medicine you take may be available. It can give you freedom from the daily-dose regimen. Conditions that can be treated with a patch include:

  • Pain. These patches contain a drug called fentanyl to relieve chronic pain. The drug is used in patients who’ve been taking pain medicine for a long time and have built up a tolerance—usually people with cancer. One patch can relieve pain for up to three days. But overdose is possible if the patch isn’t used properly—for example, if you use it with a heating pad, which amplifies the drug’s effects, or apply more than one patch. Lidocaine is another type of medicine available in patch form that targets localized pain, such as pain from shingles.
  • Nicotine addiction. Nicotine patches give you a measured dose of nicotine through the skin. The patches are available with or without a prescription. Possible side effects include skin irritation, sleep problems, headaches and a racing heartbeat.
  • Depression. Drugs called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) boost mood by maintaining levels of the brain chemicals norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. Selegiline is a type of MAOI that comes in patch form. It releases medicine into your bloodstream for 24 hours. Because MAOIs can cause side effects ranging from a pounding heartbeat and diarrhea to severe headaches and thoughts of suicide, they’re usually only prescribed after other depression medicines have been tried.

The bottom line

Patches may not work for everyone. If you’re thinking of trying a patch, talk with your healthcare provider, who can help you weigh the benefits and risks.


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