Birth Control Patch: How To Use, Advantages And Side Effects

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A birth control patch is an effective contraceptive patch applied to the skin to prevent pregnancy. It employs transdermal patches to help prevent pregnancy by releasing a daily dose of estrogen and progestin hormones into the body. However, these birth control patches do not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and are only accessible with a doctor’s prescription.

Read on to learn about the benefits and drawbacks of using birth control patches, directions for use, and answers to other frequently asked questions.

How Does A Birth Control Patch Work?

A birth control patch releases a daily dose of hormones into the bloodstream through the skin.
This contains hormones estrogen and progesterone, which prevent ovulation (release of the egg) each month to prevent pregnancy.

In addition to this, these hormones cause the thickening of cervical mucus, making it difficult for the sperm to move. The patch may also make the uterine lining thin, making it less likely to implant in the uterus even though the egg is fertilized (1).

The patch works the same way as a combined contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy. It only differs in the mode of administration and the daily dose of the hormones.

How To Use A Birth Control Patch?

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, contraceptive skin patches can be worn on the arm, upper back, abdomen, buttocks, or chest (except the breasts). You may wear patches for three weeks (21 days) in a row, and one patch can be worn for a week (2).

Skip wearing the patch on the fourth week, and you will have your menstruation. To continue contraception on the next cycle, you may apply a new patch on the same day of the next week. It is recommended to use a patch on the same day of next week, even if you are bleeding.

Effectiveness Of A Birth Control Patch

Birth control patches are considered more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy if used correctly. However, many women may make mistakes in using birth control patches, reducing their effectiveness to about 91%. This means that nine in 100 patch users can become pregnant each year (3).

Patches are more effective if you use them as recommended. Although the chance of getting pregnant while using a patch depends on how you use it, women who use it correctly have a low risk of getting pregnant.

The following tips may help you to ensure the effectiveness of the birth control patch (1).

  • Stick the patch tightly to the skin
  • Avoid sticking the patch onto an area of tight clothing where it may get dislodged
  • Do not reuse patch that is not sticking or not all part of the patch is sticking on the skin
  • Do not stick a non-sticky patch to the skin with tapes or other materials
  • Check your patch regularly to ensure the edges are stuck to the skin

Some medications such as rifampicin (antibiotic), griseofulvin (antifungal), certain HIV medications, anti-seizure medications, and some herbs, such as St. John’s wort, could make the patch less effective. You should always inform your doctor that you are on the patch while getting prescriptions so that he/she can advise you if there are interactions. It is recommended to use condoms as a backup method to prevent pregnancy if you take medications that lower the patch’s effects.

Advantages Of A Birth Control Patch

Birth control patches are one of the simple and safe ways to prevent pregnancy. It is a more convenient form of birth control for many women than barrier contraceptives or daily pills. Women can become pregnant right away when they stop using birth control patches.

Other advantages of birth control patches may include the following (4).

  • Effectively prevent pregnancy when it is used correctly. You may use birth control reminder apps to stay on schedule with applying the patches.
  • Possible to use barrier contraceptives, such as condoms, along with birth control patches to prevent STDs.
  • No need to take daily pills or emergency pills after intercourse to prevent pregnancy.
  • The patch could make the periods regular, predictable and lighter.
  • Hormones in the patch may reduce menstrual cramps in some women.
  • The patch may lessen the risk of, or prevent health conditions such as, acne, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), ovarian and endometrial cancers, breast and ovarian cysts, anemia, and iron deficiency in some women.

There is no delay in return of fertility for birth control patches. Once you stop using the patch, your normal menstrual cycle returns and you can try to conceive.

Side Effects Of A Birth Control Patch

Although many women may not develop any side effects, hormones released from the birth control patches can cause certain effects in some women. Common side effects of the birth control patch may include (5):

  • Skin irritation
  • Breast pain and breast tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding or spotting – breakthrough bleeding may be common in the first few cycles of the patch
  • Vaginal discharges and infection
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Fluid retention
  • Fatigue
  • Acne
  • Mood swings

Some of these side effects do improve after you have been on the patch for a few months.

Birth control patches may also increase the risk of high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, liver cancer, blood-clotting issues, stroke, and heart attack in some women. Some studies show that the risk for estrogen-related adverse events, such as blood clots in the legs/heart/lungs/brain, is more in patch users than those who use combination birth control pills. This can be due to higher estrogen levels in the body from patches than oral pills.

Other disadvantages of the birth control patches may include the following (1).

  • Do not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Some medications can reduce the effectiveness of the patch
  • You need to remember to change it every week
  • Visible on the skin, making it a cosmetic concern for some women

Contraceptives, such as intrauterine devices (IUD) or implants, can be considered if you often forget to change the patch every week. However, if you want to protect yourself from STIs, condoms are the best method. Combined use of condoms and patches can provide you effective prevention of pregnancy along with protection from STIs.

Contraindications To Use A Birth Control Patch

Birth control patches are not suitable for all women. All hormonal contraceptives containing estrogens, such as birth control pills, rings, and patches, are not recommended for women who are obese with BMI ≥35 kg/m2 and/or smokers and are 35 years or older. Smoking, obesity and age factors could increase the risk of estrogen-related issues.

The use of a birth control patch is also contraindicated if you have or had any of the following health conditions (6).

  • Breast cancer
  • Multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease e.g. hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia
  • Liver diseases
  • Stroke
  • Migraine with an aura e.g. associated with zigzag lines, flashing, etc.
  • Heart attack and other heart disease
  • Previous personal or family history of blood clots
  • Inherited blood-clotting disorders
  • Certain rheumatic diseases e.g. positive antiphospholipd antibodies

Always seek a prescription before contraceptive use and discuss your medical history with your doctor or nurse. They can prescribe you the right and safe mode of contraception based on your health factors.

When To See A Doctor?

It is advisable to contact your doctor immediately if you develop any of the following issues while using a birth control patch.

  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Yellowing of eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • Leg aches, swelling or soreness (especially if it affects one leg)
  • Sudden, severe headache, or frequent headaches
  • Breathing problems
  • Sudden back pain or jaw pain with sweating, nausea, and breathing problems
  • Aura such as seeing zigzag lines and flashes of light

You may also contact healthcare professionals or health centers if you have any concerns or health issues during the use of the patch.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is it safe to use the patch while breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding mothers may use birth control patches as a mode of contraception. However, estrogen in the patch may impact the milk supply, so it is often suggested to use it after the first six weeks of breastfeeding.

A small quantity of hormones in the patch can be found in breast milk. But, it is unlikely to affect the baby. Talk to your doctor to know more options of contraception during breastfeeding.

2. Does the patch make me gain weight?

Weight gain is not a common side effect of birth control patches. Studies have shown that birth control patches, rings, and pills are not associated with weight gain or loss in women.

3. Can I get the birth control patch wet?

If it is stuck properly on clean and dry skin, birth control patches do not fall off even if they get wet. Birth control patches stay in place while swimming, sweating, shower, sauna, or jacuzzi. However, some patch brands may fall off if you stay more than 30 minutes in water.

You should ensure that the patch is in place and stick a new one if needed. Women who are swimmers may consider other modes of contraception if they have to swim more than 30 minutes frequently.

4. How much does the birth control patch cost?

The prices may vary depending on the type of health insurance you have and the country you reside. Patches for a month (three patches) could cost up to $150 in the US. You may also need a prescription from a doctor, nurse, clinic, or a planned parenthood health center to purchase the patches.

In the US, patches can be free for women with certain health insurance plans and under some government programs, such as Medicaid covers. Most insurance plans cover doctors’ consultations to obtain birth control prescriptions. Otherwise, consultations may cost you in the range of 35 to 250 US dollars. You may contact your doctor or closest parenthood centers to know the specific details.

A birth control patch is a transdermal patch that releases hormones to prevent pregnancy. This is effective contraception if used as per the manufacturer’s directions. You may wear a patch for three weeks and skip a week to have menstruation, and apply a new patch on the same day of next week though bleeding is present. Ensure to stick the patch well on the skin and change it even if it is not sticking partially. Contact your doctor if you experience any side effects, including headaches, diarrhea, or dizziness after applying the patch.

Key Pointers

  • Birth control patches may be worn on arms, buttocks, back, or chest.
  • These patches release estrogen and progesterone hormones in the bloodstream, which prevent ovulation.
  • Some advantages of birth control patches are that they are effective when used properly, regularize periods, and may reduce menstrual cramps.
  • However, some side effects of these patches are breast pain, vomiting, vaginal infection, fatigue, etc.
  • Contact a doctor if you experience chest discomfort, breathing problems, back pain, or any other discomfort.

References:

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Dr. Ng Kai Lyn

(MMed (O&G), MRCOG)
Dr. Ng Kai Lyn is a Singapore-based obstetrician and gynecologist, specializing in urogynecology, minimally invasive surgery, and clinical interest in fertility. She has vast experience managing and treating benign gynecological conditions, including uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometrial polyps, and endometriosis. She is also fellowship trained in urogynecology. She manages pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic floor reconstructive surgery, overactive bladder, urinary incontinence,... more

Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made... more