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Birth Control Patch: How Does It Work? Is It Effective Than Pills? What Are The Side Effects?

Birth control patch, like the pills, is a birth control method for women. It is a small, sticky square that can be worn on the arm, back, lower belly, or other places on your body and looks like a plastic bandage.

The birth control patch was introduced in 2002 and is also termed a transdermal patch [1]. When stuck on the skin, the patch releases hormones like those in birth control pills or the vaginal ring into your system through your skin.

How Does Birth Control Patch Work?

The birth control patch contains the same hormones as the pill, oestrogen and progestin - which is absorbed by the body - directly into the bloodstream. These hormones help prevent pregnancy by blocking your ovaries from releasing eggs and thickening the cervical mucus to keep sperm out [2]. The patch takes one week to reach its full effect.

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The birth control patch needs to be used only once per week, unlike the pill (everyday use) and after three weeks or 21 days, the patch is removed [3]. It is important to change the patch on time, as it can drop the effectiveness to about 91 per cent.

Is Birth Control Patch Better Than Birth Control Pills?

The birth control patch has some advantages over other types of birth control, and they are as follows [4]:

  • Easier to use for women who have trouble swallowing pills
  • Can be removed at any time, allowing for a quick return to fertility
  • Provides a steady dose of hormones
  • Does not require daily attention, like the pills
  • More predictable periods that are lighter and less
  • Less anaemia due to blood loss
  • Less chance of ovarian cysts, certain cancers, and other illnesses

If used according to the direction, a birth control patch is useful, 99 per cent of the time [5]. The patch starts to work almost right away if you apply it in the first 5 days of your period. According to experts, the failure rate is less than 1 per cent for women who always use the patch. Some doctors suggest using a backup method for the first month just if your body releases an egg before the medicine takes effect.

Examining the effectiveness of pill and patch, it is safe to say that both methods use hormones to prevent pregnancy but do deliver the hormones differently. Be it the pill or the patch, and you will be equally protected against pregnancy. Birth control patch may be more convenient because you apply the patch to your skin once a week and forget about it. In contrast, you have to remember to take birth control pills every day [6]. One more point to be noted is that the birth control patch may increase oestrogen levels in the body compared to combination birth control pills taken by mouth.

Note: To improve the effectiveness of the patch, change it at the same time on the same day each week.

How To Use A Birth Control Patch?

You will need a doctor's prescription for the patch. Before opting for the patch, talk with your doctor and see if it is the right option for you. You can start using the birth control patch as soon as you get your hands on it (and if you are sure you are not pregnant).

The direction to use a birth control patch are as follows [7][8]:

  • Open the pouch with the patch and keep it flat.
  • Clean and dry the area where you want to stick the patch, such as the stomach, upper arm, upper back, shoulder, or buttocks.
  • Peel off the patch from the foil pouch, then peel off the plastic.
  • Avoid touching the sticky part and carefully place the patch against your skin for 10 seconds using the palm of your hand.
  • On the same day the following week, remove the patch.
  • Apply a new patch, and you can apply each new patch to a different skin area to avoid irritation.
  • Do this for three weeks and take a break on the fourth week.
  • Continue the cycle the following week.

Note: Do not use any lotion, powder, or makeup under or near the patch. Do not apply it on your breast. Do not flush the patch down (dispose of it neatly in a plastic bag) as it may contaminate the water supply with hormones.

What Are The Risks/Side Effects Of Birth Control Patch?

Side effects of the birth control patch may include the following [9]:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Mood swings
  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Bleeding or spotting
  • Skin irritation
  • Breast tenderness or pain
  • Menstrual pain
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Acne
  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscle spasms
  • Vaginal infections and discharge
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid retention
  • Increased risk of blood-clotting problems, heart attack, stroke, liver cancer, gallbladder disease and high blood pressure

Who Should Not Use Birth Control Patch?

While a birth control patch has some benefits over other birth control methods, it is not advisable for everyone. People who fall under the below categories (or have the mentioned conditions) are advised not to use the birth control patch [10].

  • History of blood clots
  • History of breast, uterine or liver cancer
  • Chest pain or a history of heart attack, stroke or high blood pressure
  • Diabetes-related complications of the kidneys, eyes, nerves or blood vessels
  • Liver disease
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • Migraines with aura
  • Aged 35 or order and smoke
  • On medications
  • About to have major surgery.

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On A Final Note...

The birth control patch does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. On other note, it is highly unlikely that the patch falls off, but it does happen (2 per cent of patches). You can reapply it or put a new one as soon as you notice the previous birth control patch has fallen off.

If the patch has been off for more than 24 hours, you will need to use a backup birth control method such as pills. Contact your doctor for doubts.