Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Fentanyl
Fentanyl is available as a skin patch, lozenge, pills, shots, a film that dissolves in your mouth, nasal spray, or by IV (intravenous).
Use fentanyl exactly as prescribed by your doctor. This is very important so
that you do not get too much of the drug. If you get too much fentanyl in your
system, you could have serious problems that can lead to death.
Fentanyl acts upon specific receptors in
your brain and spinal cord to decrease the feeling of pain and to reduce your
emotional response to pain. The action of fentanyl is similar to other drugs in
the morphine category (opioids).
Fentanyl is used to manage moderate to
severe pain, usually in people who have chronic pain. It may also be used for breakthrough pain. Fentanyl is often used
when your other pain medicines no longer work.
For people with cancer who are
already on opioid pain medicine such as morphine or oxycodone, fentanyl works
well for treatment of cancer pain.footnote 1
Fentanyl has many side effects,
Fentanyl should be used with caution by older adults and by
people who have lung disease, such as
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or
Fentanyl can cause your body to
expect this medicine daily (drug dependency). Dependency is not the same as addiction, which is a behavioral
disorder marked by craving a drug.
Fentanyl can cause
serious or life-threatening respiratory problems (hypoventilation). For that
reason it should not be used in:
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects.
(Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
In some people, fentanyl impairs
balance, coordination, or the ability to think. Do not drive or operate any
type of equipment if you are taking fentanyl. If you have severe side
effects, call your doctor, and stop taking this medicine.
Do not drink alcohol or use other
drugs while you are taking fentanyl.
Fentanyl can interact with
many other drugs. Make sure that your doctor is aware of all the medicines you
Fentanyl should be used during pregnancy only if the
benefits to the mother outweigh the risks to the fetus. If you are or may be
pregnant, talk with your doctor before using fentanyl. This drug can pass
through your body in breast milk and should not be used if you are
When you remove your fentanyl patch, dispose of it as your doctor tells you to.
Avoid the use of heat, such as a heating pad, electric
blanket, hot tub, or sauna, while you are using a fentanyl patch. Heat can
increase the amount of fentanyl released from the patch, which causes more risk
of serious side effects.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
Foley KM, Abernathy A (2008). Management of cancer pain. In VT DeVita Jr et al., eds., DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology, 8th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2757–2790. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerMichael Seth Rabin, MD - Medical Oncology
Current as ofNovember 14, 2014
Current as of:
November 14, 2014
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Michael Seth Rabin, MD - Medical Oncology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more, visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.