Tests conducted by researchers at the Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, showed that using a nicotine patch lessened pain in men after prostate removal surgery.
Lead author Ashraf S. Habib, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology and director of quality improvement, said that while morphine and other opioids (narcotics) remain the most commonly prescribed post-operative pain medications, many patients fear the side effects from these drugs, which can include drowsiness, nausea, slowed breathing, vomiting, constipation, itching and dependence.
"Some patients would rather experience the pain than the potential side effects of morphine and other painkillers," said Prof Habib.
Prof Habib's study included 90 non-smoking men about to undergo a radical retropubic prostatectomy. Each received a 7-milligram nicotine patch or an identical placebo patch before anesthesia and surgery.
After surgery, each patient was able to access morphine through a self-controlled device.
The results showed that patients who received the nicotine patch self-administered significantly less morphine in the postoperative period. In general, the nicotine patch was well-tolerated by patients, however, patients receiving nicotine reported higher levels of nausea.
"The study suggests that the nicotine patch has a useful effect in improving pain relief after surgery," Prof Habib said.
He added that future studies were needed to determine whether nicotine is better administered in a patch or spray form, as well as to assess the effectiveness of nicotine in "smokers versus non-smokers and women versus men."