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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

The Skin Patch

The skin patch contains estrogen and progestin. The patch slowly releases these hormones through the skin over the course of seven days. The patch is changed weekly, but every fourth week is "patch-free" to allow menstruation. The patch is positioned on the buttocks, lower abdomen or the upper body.

The patch should never be applied to the skin in the breast area, because this may cause breast tenderness.

Because of the possible link between estrogen and breast cancer, the patch should never be placed on the breast area.

Recent studies suggest that the total amount of estrogen absorbed during the month from the patch exceeds that from the combination oral contraceptive pill. There is some concern that the risk of blood clots is slightly increased in patch useres compared with pill users. This potential risk must be weighed against any advantage of the patch when choosing this method of birth control.

The patch is 98 percent to 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.

Advantages

  • The patch is a good choice for women who forget or don't like to take pills on a daily basis.

Disadvantages

  • The patch requires a prescription from a health-care provider. The patch needs to be changed weekly and the prescription refilled every few months. Remembering to pick up refills on a timely basis and changing the patch on time is essential.
  • Women who cannot use estrogens are not good candidates for the contraceptive skin patch, which contains estrogen.
  • Sometimes the patch adhesive loosens, and the patch falls off. If this happens, apply a new patch immediately to prevent pregnancy.
  • Women who weigh more than 198 pounds are not good candidates for the patch because the hormone in the patch reliably prevents pregnancy only at weights less than this.
  • Fertility will not return for one to three months after use of the patch is discontinued.
  • The patch does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
Last updated October 1, 2010




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