If you feel that taking birth control pills on a daily basis is such a hassle, perhaps it’s worth considering the use of a birth control patch. For some women, this birth control option may not be too appealing because they are concerned whether it is really as effective in preventing pregnancy as compared to more popular options such as birth control pills and condoms.

What is a birth control patch and how is it used?

The birth control patch is a thin medicated patch measuring 4.5 cm on each side. It is similar to that of a band aid but it contains hormones that are intended to prevent pregnancy. The patch may be applied on the upper outer arm, abdomen, buttocks or back. A patch is worn for one week but it needs to be replaced with a new patch after a week or on the exact day that it was applied. A box contains three patches that need to be worn in succession for three weeks. A patch free week ensues which is then followed by a new cycle of patch application.

How does it prevent pregnancy?

The birth control patch works by releasing hormones through the skin and into the bloodstream. The patch contains the hormones progestin and estrogen, the very same hormones that can be found in birth control pills. These hormones prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg and they also thicken the cervical mucus making it difficult for fertilization to occur. The hormones also keep the lining of the uterus thin thereby preventing implantation.

Is the patch effective?

Yes it is. Although the hormones are delivered transdermally, a woman’s body can absorb more hormones with the patch as compared to taking birth control pills.  The patch also works best when it is applied on the skin on time. However, it may be less effective for women who weigh more than 198 pounds. Anti-seizure medications, the antibacterial drug Rifampin, and drugs for the treatment of HIV and seizure disorders can affect the effectiveness of the birth control patch. Likewise, the supplement St. John’s wort may make the patch less effective.

Are there activities that are restricted while using the patch?

You can actually keep on with your usual activities while wearing a birth control patch. The patch can still work even if it gets wet through bathing or swimming and even if you do activities that make you sweat. However, women who use the patch are strongly advised to avoid cigarette smoking because it can increase the risk of serious cardiovascular side effects.

What if the patch falls off?

If the patch seems to be peeling off, press firmly for a few seconds to make it stick again. But if this will not work or if the patch falls off, you need to apply a new one. If your patch has been off for more than 24 hours, you need to replace it with a new one immediately. And you also need to use another form of contraception for at least the next week. You must also begin a new 4 week cycle keeping in mind that you already have a new Patch Change Day.

Is the patch for everyone?

The birth control patch is not recommended for everyone. It is contraindicated for women with any of the following health conditions:
– Cardiovascular problems
– History of blood clot and blood clotting issues
– Known and suspected cancers (Breast and Cervix, Uterus)
– Undiagnosed vaginal bleeding
– Hepatitis
– Diabetes
– Liver Tumor
– Pregnancy
– Gallbladder disease
– Known smoker

Your doctor will evaluate your risks prior to prescribing the patch so make sure that you give him a thorough health history including all the medications that you are currently taking.

What are the side effects when using the patch?

Not all women get side effects but the most common symptoms reported are pretty much the same as what you get from taking birth control pills. Common symptoms include headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, spotting, and cramps. Some women also complain of skin irritation on the patch site.

When using the patch, pay close attention to what your body is telling you. Since every woman is different, the effects can also vary. But if you notice any bothersome symptoms, call your doctor immediately.