You’ve probably heard of the contraceptive patch before, but you might not know much about it . Keep reading to find out, and to discover who it’s suitable for, as well as the advantages and disadvantages associated with this type of contraceptive.
What is a contraceptive patch?
A small, adhesive patch, this contraceptive is worn on your skin and, when used correctly, it is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
How does the contraceptive patch work?
The patch works by releasing hormones into your bloodstream through your skin. It contains oestrogen and progestogen, which are the same hormones that are used in the combined pill. These hormones prevent you from getting pregnant in three ways. They:
- Prevent the release of an egg (ovulation) each month
- Thicken the cervical mucus, making it harder for sperm to get through the cervix
- Thin the lining of the womb, making it less likely that a fertilised egg will implant there
How to use the patch
In order to ensure the patch is as effective as possible, it’s essential that you use it correctly. Your doctor or a contraceptive specialist will be able to give you detailed instructions on how to do this, and on what to do if you forget to remove a patch.
Who can use the patch?
The patch isn’t suitable for everyone. It might not be appropriate for you if:
- You smoke and are 35 years old or above
- You’re 35 or over and gave up smoking less than a year ago
- You weight over 90kg
- You’re pregnant or may be pregnant
- You’re breastfeeding a baby who is under 6 weeks old
- You’re taking medications used to treat tuberculosis, epilepsy or HIV, or certain other medications, such as St John’s Wort
- You have or have had blood clots, high blood pressure, a heart problem, migraines with aura, breast cancer, liver disease or gallbladder disease
If you’re not sure if this type of contraception is suitable for you, your doctor or a pharmacist will be able to advise you.
How effective is the patch?
When this method of contraception is used correctly, it is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Advantages of using the patch
There are many advantages associated with using the patch. For example:
- This method of contraception doesn’t interrupt sex and is easy to use.
- When used properly, contraceptive patch effectiveness is very high.
- You don’t have to remember to use it every day; you just have to remember to change your patch once a week.
- Because the hormones go straight into your blood, they still work even if you have vomiting or diarrhoea.
- It can make periods less painful, lighter and more regular.
- It can ease premenstrual symptoms.
- It might reduce the risk of bowel, womb and ovarian cancer.
Disadvantages of using the patch
However, there are possible disadvantages to bear in mind too. For instance:
- You will need to remember to change your patch each week, otherwise you might not be protected against pregnancy.
- Depending on where you wear it, the patch itself may be visible.
- It can result in skin soreness and irritation.
- It doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections, so you may need to use condoms as well.
- Some women experience temporary contraceptive patch side effects when they begin using it, such as sickness, mood changes, headaches and sore breasts (although these problems typically start to ease after a few months).
- Some women experience bleeding between periods.
- Certain medicines can make this contraceptive less effective.
Risks of using the patch
Using the patch is associated with a very small risk of more serious side effects. For example, a small number of people who use the patch develop blood clots in their veins or arteries. Additionally, research suggests that women who use the patch have a slightly elevated risk of breast cancer, however this risk reduced with time after stopping using the patch.
These risks are small, but you should discuss all risks and benefits with your doctor or a pharmacist before starting this type of contraception.
Where to get the patch
You can get this form of contraception from a number of places, including contraception clinics, sexual health clinics, some young people’s services and some GP surgeries. When you first start using the patch, you will be given a three-month supply. If you don’t experience any problems, you can then be given 12-month prescriptions.