What Is The Contraceptive Patch?

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The transdermal contraceptive patch is a simple, effective and convenient birth control method that works very well if used correctly. It contains both oestrogen and progestin hormones. The patch is applied to your skin once a week, so you do not need to worry about birth control daily. It is particularly popular with younger women.

Besides preventing pregnancy, the patch has lots of additional health benefits. These include minimising premenstrual symptoms and making your periods lighter and more regular. They may also reduce the risk of fibroids, ovarian cysts and ovarian, womb and bowel cancer.

The patch, although a very effective method of birth control, is not suitable for all women. Women over 35 who smoke, are very overweight, take certain medications or have certain diseases might not be good candidates for the patch.

Who Should Not Use The Patch?

As with other contraceptive options, the patch is not suitable for everyone. Your healthcare provider will assess if the patch is a good choice for you based on questions they will ask you about your health and your family’s medical history. You should inform them about any illnesses or operations you have had, or medications you are taking.

You should not use the patch if you:

  • are pregnant or think you may be pregnant
  • are breastfeeding
  • smoke and are 35 or over
  • are 35 or over and stopped smoking less than a year ago
  • are very overweight (over 90kg)
  • take certain medicines that can interfere with the efficacy of the patch, such as some antibiotics, St John’s Wort or medicines used to treat epilepsy, tuberculosis (TB) or HIV
  • have had diseases such as thrombosis (blood clots); conditions affecting your blood circulatory system; high blood pressure; migraine; breast cancer; liver or gallbladder disease or diabetes.

How Does The Patch Work?

Like combination birth control pills, the patch contains the hormones oestrogen and progestin which are like the hormones our bodies make naturally. The contraceptive patch works similarly to combination birth control pills that prevent pregnancy by releasing hormones into your bloodstream that keep your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation).

The birth control patch also thickens your cervical mucous which stops sperm from moving through the cervix and reaching an egg where fertilisation can take place. Because the patch thins the lining of your uterus (womb) it makes it less likely for a fertilised egg to implant there

Hormonal contraceptives such as the patch do not protect you or your partner from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You will need to use extra protection, such as condoms to protect yourself.

How To Use The Patch Correctly

Depending on the brand, you can wear the patch on your abdomen (belly), bottom, upper arm or back. The hormones in the patch are absorbed into your body through your skin. The patch is replaced once a week, with 1 week off every month when you will have a period (menstruate).

To ensure that the patch works effectively, it is vital to use it correctly. Making a mistake, such as not putting on a new patch on time, can result in an unwanted pregnancy. You might find it useful to use a birth control reminder app or set a weekly alarm on your phone.

It is important to store and use your patch correctly. You should store your patches at room temperature, and away from direct sunlight. They should not be stored in the fridge or freezer. Each patch should be kept sealed in its pouch until right before you put it on.

The skin where you put the patch needs to be clean and dry - do not use any lotions or powders on the area. You should not stick the patch on your breasts, irritated skin or anywhere where it may get rubbed off by tight clothing. The patch is very sticky and should not come off after a shower, bath, sauna, swim, or any other kind of exercise. You should still check your patch daily to make sure that it is still in place.

What Are The Benefits Of The Patch?

When used correctly, the patch is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. Besides being a simple and safe form of contraception, it also offers many additional benefits. These include:

  • You do not need to remember to take a pill every day.
  • The patch remains effective if you are ill and you vomit or have diarrhoea.
  • The patch may protect against ovarian cancer, womb cancer and colon cancer.
  • It tends to make your periods more regular, lighter and less painful
  • It can ease premenstrual symptoms
  • It may reduce the risk of ovarian, womb and bowel cancer
  • It may reduce the risk of fibroids, ovarian cysts and non-cancerous breast disease

What Are The Disadvantages Of The Patch?

As with all contraceptive methods, the contraceptive patch comes with some associated disadvantages and risks. Some women experience temporary side effects, such as breast tenderness and headaches, when they first start using the patch although these normally settle down after a couple of months. Other disadvantages and risks may include:

  • The patch can increase your blood pressure.
  • Although rare, the patch can increase your chances of developing a clot, which may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
  • You have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer.
  • The patch is not suitable for women over 35 who smoke.
  • You should not wear the patch if you weigh 90kg (14 stone) or more.
  • The patch does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • You may not be able to use the patch if you take certain medicines, such as some antibiotics, St John’s Wort or medicines used to treat epilepsy, tuberculosis (TB) or HIV
  • Although small and translucent, the patch is visible.
  • It can cause skin irritation, itching and soreness.

Considering the Contraceptive Patch

The transdermal contraceptive patch is an efficient and user-friendly birth control method that offers health benefits beyond preventing pregnancy. Its application once a week offers a convenience that many other methods don't.

Despite some potential side effects and risks, when used correctly, the patch can be an effective, safe, and convenient contraceptive choice for many women. Nonetheless, it is crucial to remember that it doesn't provide protection against sexually transmitted infections, hence the importance of additional measures like condoms.

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