Birth Control Patch

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 29, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Patricia Geraghty MSN, WHNP, FNP-BC on July 29, 2014

What Is a Birth Control Patch?

The birth control patch is a method of hormonal contraception. Ortho Evra, the birth control patch, was introduced in 2002. The patch is a highly effective birth control with approximately six of 100 women becoming pregnant in a year of typical use.

A birth control patch is a small square patch that looks like a band-aid. It sticks to the skin and gradually releases hormones into the body to prevent pregnancy. It is replaced once a week.

How Does the Birth Control Patch Work?

The patch contains two types of synthetic hormones: estrogen and progestin. These are the same types of hormones found in most birth control pills. When released into the body, these hormones prevent pregnancy by blocking the ovaries from releasing eggs. They also thicken the cervix mucus to keep out sperm.

How Do I Use the Birth Control Patch?

You must have a prescription to use the birth control patch. See your doctor to discuss whether the patch is right for you. The birth control patch is very easy to use.

To use the birth control patch:

1. Start using the patch as soon as you obtain them if you are reasonably sure you aren’t pregnant.

2. Open the foil pouch so that it lies flat.

3. Decide where you will put the patch. You need an area of clean, dry skin on your stomach, upper arm, upper back/shoulder, or buttocks.

4. Peel the patch off of the foil.

5. Peel half of the plastic off the patch, being careful not to touch the sticky part.

6. Stick the patch to your skin, peeling off the rest of the plastic.

7. Push the patch against your skin using the palm of your hand for 10 seconds.

8. Remove the patch on the same day the following week.

9. Apply a new patch in the same manner.

10. Dispose of the old patch by folding it in half so that it sticks to itself. Place it in a sealed plastic bag, and throw it away.

11. Do this for three weeks. On the fourth week, take a break from the patch. Then start again the next week.

When using the patch:

  • always apply it to clean, dry skin
  • do not use lotion, powder, or makeup under or near the patch
  • do not apply the patch to your breast
  • do not flush the patch down the toilet because it may contaminate the water supply with hormones

Every few days, it is also a good idea to check and make certain the patch has not come loose.

If you discover that the patch has fallen off, consult the pharmacy instructions for how to proceed. Plan to use a backup contraceptive method for one week.

How Effective is the Birth Control Patch?

The birth control patch is very effective. According to Planned Parenthood, the failure rate is:

  • one percent for women who always use the patch correctly
  • nine percent for women who don’t always use the patch correctly

It is important to change your patch at the same day and time each week. Decide which day and time would be easiest for you before you start using the patch.

What Are the Benefits of the Birth Control Patch?

The birth control patch is a simple and convenient form of contraception. Benefits include:

  • high efficacy
  • regulation of your menstrual cycle
  • shorter, lighter periods with less cramping
  • unlike the pill, you only need to think about it once a week

What Are the Disadvantages of the Birth Control Patch?

The birth control patch does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. It may also cause side effects, including:

  • skin irritation from the patch
  • bleeding between periods
  • breast tenderness
  • nausea and vomiting

If these side effects last for longer than 3 months, talk to your doctor. A different method of birth control may be better for you.

What Are the Risks of the Birth Control Patch?

All hormonal birth control has the potential to cause rare but serious side effects, including:

  • deep vein thrombosis
  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • pulmonary embolism

There has been conflicting findings but the more recent and larger studies demonstrate no difference in risk among estrogen containing pills, patch or rings.  However, the overall risk is still low.

Complications are more common in women who:

  • smoke and are over age 35
  • have diabetes
  • have high blood pressure or cholesterol
  • have certain inherited blood clotting conditions

If you fall into one of these categories, discuss with your doctor whether hormonal contraception is right for you.

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