The Pros and Cons of Fentanyl Patches
Patients with chronic pain typically have many choices and decisions to make when it comes to pain management. One of these choices includes Fentanyl Transdermic Patches. Fentanyl patches provide a strong, effective, and continuous dose of pain medicine that helps prevent the pain peaks and valleys that come with other types of pain drugs. Fentanyl is not right for all types of pain, however.
Fentanyl (a.k.a. Duragesic or Sublimaze) is a narcotic opioid pain medication. Like other narcotics (Percocet, Vicodin, Morphine), it acts on the central nervous system to reduce the sensation of pain and change the way the brain perceives pain. Opioids are prescribed when pain is too severe to be managed by over-the-counter analgesics like aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen.
Patients with chronic pain due to cancer, arthritis, or other long-term conditions usually start out with less potent pain medications. Over time, however, many patients develop a tolerance for these medications. If the cause of their pain does not go away, they may need to switch to stronger doses or different types of pain medication. If pain is so severe that oral pain medications no longer work, physicians may prescribe Fentanyl. Fentanyl is available in a lozenge, IV medication and a film that dissolves on the tongue, but the easiest way to get long-term relief is through a stick-on skin patch.
Fentanyl patches come in a range of doses. They are applied to the upper arm, chest or back and changed every three days. It may take a day or so after applying the first patch before enough pain medication builds up in the blood stream to control pain. After that (as long as patches are applied properly and changed regularly), patients can expect excellent pain relief.
There are many pros and cons to using Fentanyl skin patches for moderate to severe pain. They should never be used as a first-choice medication for short-term, mild or post-operative pain or for patients who haven't tried other medications first.
The Prospective Positives
1. Fentanyl provides round-the-clock, long-lasting pain relief.
2. Patients don't have to remember to take multiple pills per day.
3. Fentanyl is usually effective when pain is severe or doesn't respond to other medications.
The Potential Downsides
1. Fentanyl interacts adversely with many other medications. Be sure your physician knows about all your other prescriptions.
2. It can cause sleepiness and fatigue. Patients using Fentanyl shouldn't drive, drink alcohol or take other sedating medications.
3. Patients complain that patches don't always stick well, especially when exposed to water (showering or bathing).
4. Patients can become dependent or addicted to Fentanyl, just like any narcotic pain medication. Patients who need strong pain management, however, should not let worry about abuse prevent them from getting the relief they need.
5. Side effects and signs of overdose can include:
- Difficulty speaking
- Visual changes
- Low blood pressure
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty breathing
Patients who aren't getting enough relief from their current pain medication are encouraged to talk with their doctor about other options. If he/she recommends Fentanyl Skin Patches, be sure to follow your physician's instructions exactly.
A Resource of the National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health
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