Contraceptive Patch

A hormonal contraceptive, the contraceptive patch contains the same hormones as the combined contraceptive pill - oestrogen and progestogen - permitting a steady dose of hormones to be released into the bloodstream through the skin.

Once considered less favourable than its counterparts, the number of women using the contraceptive patch has increased significantly. A hormonal contraceptive, the contraceptive patch contains the same hormones as the combined contraceptive pill – oestrogen and progestogen – permitting a steady dose of hormones to be released into the bloodstream through the skin. Not only does this reduce the risk of negative gastrointestinal side effects, it makes the contraceptive patch one of the most convenient and effective ways to prevent pregnancy.

How does the patch work?

Similar in appearance to a nicotine patch, the contraceptive patch is a small, thin, beige patch about 5cm by 5cm in size. It works by releasing daily doses of the female sex hormones oestrogen and progestogen into the bloodstream through the skin.

The contraceptive patch works in the same way as the combined oral contraceptive pill in that it:

  • Stops the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation)
  • Thickens the mucus in your cervix (the entrance to the womb) making it difficult for sperm to reach the womb
  • Thins the lining of the womb, making it harder for an egg to attach to the womb

How should the contraceptive patch be used?

The patch is used for three weeks (21 days) of your cycle out of every four with a new patch to be used each week. To be instantly effective, the patch should be put on the day your period starts. If it is used during this time, it is instantly effective. However should it be started at any other time, additional contraception must be used for seven days. After three weeks, a seven-day break period, known as the patch-free week, will result in a withdrawal bleed like a period, although for some this may not always happen. During this week you will be fully protected.

As long as the skin is clean, dry and does not have excessive hair, the patch can be used on most areas of the body. However, the patch should not be put on your breasts or any area of skin that can easily be rubbed by clothing or an area of skin that is sore.

When bathing, swimming or coming into contact with any water activity, the patch there is very little chance that it will fall off, as it is very sticky.

What are the positives or negatives to the patch?

Like most medications there are a number of positives to using the patch as well as some disadvantages.

Positives Negatives
It is very easy to use and does not interrupt sex. May be visible.
Unlike the combined oral contraceptive pill, you do not have to think about it every day. You only have to remember to change the patch once a week. Can cause skin irritation, itching and soreness.
The hormones from the contraceptive patch do not need to be absorbed by the stomach, so it is just as effective even if you vomit or have diarrhoea. Can cause mild, temporary side effects such as headaches, nausea (sickness), breast tenderness and mood changes.
Like the pill, it tends to make your periods more regular, lighter and less painful. Can cause bleeding between periods and spotting (very light, irregular bleeding) – this is common in the first few cycles of using the patch.
It can help with premenstrual symptoms. Can be less effective when using some medicines.
It may reduce the risk of cancer of the ovaries, womb and bowel. Can raise blood pressure.
It may reduce the risk of fibroids, ovarian cysts and non-cancerous breast disease. A very small number of women may develop a blood clot, which can block a vein (venous thrombosis) or an artery (arterial thrombosis, heart attack or stroke).
When used correctly the contraceptive patch can be more than 99% effective. Generally this means that using this method, less than one woman in 100 will get pregnant in a year. Possible increase in risk of cervical cancer if used continuously for more than five years.
Research has shown that the patch may be less effective for women who weigh 90kg (14 stone) or over.


Can every woman use the patch?

Every type of contraceptive reacts differently to each individual woman. The patch therefore may not be suitable for all women. Thus it may be unsuitable for you to use the patch; if you think you might be pregnant, smoke and are over 35, or are and stopped smoking less than a year ago, you are very overweight, take certain medicines that may react with the patch, have had a previous thrombosis, have a heart abnormality, circulatory disease or high blood pressure, a sufferer of severe migraines or migraines with aura, have breast cancer now or within the past five years, have active liver or gall bladder disease have diabetes with complications, or have had diabetes for more than 20 years.

Although there may be slight risks to using the patch, though this is the same for every type of medication, for most women, the benefits of the patch outweigh the possible risks.