Birth Control Hormones: The Patch

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Topic Overview

What is the patch?

The patch is used to prevent pregnancy. It looks like a bandage and is put on the skin of your belly, rear end (buttocks), upper arm, or upper body (but not on a breast).

The patch releases a regular dose of the hormones estrogen and progestin. These hormones prevent pregnancy in three ways. They thicken the mucus in the cervix. This makes it hard for sperm to travel into the uterus. They thin the lining of the uterus, which makes it harder for a fertilized egg to attach to the uterus. The hormones also can stop the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation).

The patch provides birth control for 1 month at a time. You change the patch once a week for 3 weeks and then go without a patch for 1 week. During the week without the patch, you have your period. Your period may be very light.

How well does it work?

In the first year of use:footnote 1

  • When the patch is used exactly as directed, fewer than 1 woman out of 100 has an unplanned pregnancy.
  • When the patch is not used exactly as directed, 9 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy.

Be sure to tell your doctor about any health problems you have or medicines you take. He or she can help you choose the birth control method that is right for you.

What are the advantages?

  • The patch is more effective for preventing pregnancy than barrier methods of birth control, such as the condom or diaphragm.
  • It may reduce acne, heavy bleeding and cramping, and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
  • It's convenient. You put it on only 3 times each month. You do not have to interrupt sex to protect against pregnancy.
  • It's easy to check to see if you forgot to put one on.

What are the disadvantages?

  • The patch doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes or HIV/AIDS. If you aren't sure if your sex partner might have an STI, use a condom to protect against disease.
  • The patch may cause changes in your period. You may miss periods, or you may have spotting or a little bleeding. If you miss a period, find out if you are pregnant.
  • It may cause mood changes, less interest in sex, or weight gain.
  • The patch contains estrogen. It may not be right for you if you have certain health problems or concerns.
  • It may increase your risk of blood clots.
  • It may be less effective in women who are overweight.
  • You must remember to change the patch on schedule.

References

Citations

  1. Trussell J, Guthrie KA (2011). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 20th ed., pp. 45–74. Atlanta: Ardent Media.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerRebecca Sue Uranga, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

Current as ofMarch 16, 2017