Birth Control Patch
What is the patch?
The birth control patch, commonly called by its brand name Ortho Evra, is a thin, square patch that sticks to the skin. The transdermal patch prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones (estrogen and progestin – the same hormones used in birth control pills) that prevent a woman’s ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation).
The hormones also thicken the woman’s cervical mucus, blocking sperm from joining an egg if one has been released. In addition, the hormones thin the lining of the uterus, which prevents a fertilized egg from attaching in the uterus.
A new patch is placed somewhere on the body once a week for three weeks in a row. On the fourth week, no patch is used.
The birth control patch is available with a prescription from a drugstore or clinic pharmacy and costs between $50-$80.
How to use the patch
Most women find the birth control patch easy to use. A new patch is applied on the skin (either on the buttocks, back, arm, upper torso or belly) once a week for three weeks in a row. Apply the patch to clean, dry skin. Do not use lotions or creams on the area where the patch is placed, as these will affect the patch’s ability to stay on the skin.
It is important to always change the patch on the same day of the week. For example, if the patch is applied on a Tuesday, always change out the patch on the following Tuesday. After removing the patch, place it in the original foil packaging and throw it in the trash. Do not flush the patch as used patches still contain some hormone.
During the fourth week no patch is needed and a woman has bleeding similar to a period. A woman may still be bleeding when it is time to put on another patch. This is normal.
If you forgot to change a patch, apply the new patch as soon as you remember. This will become the new day to apply a new patch. You should use backup birth control method (i.e. condoms) for seven days when this happens.
If you forget to remove the patch on the fourth week, just remove the patch when you remember. Start again with a new patch on the regular patch change day.
If the patch falls off for less than one day, reapply the patch. If it will not stick, use a new patch. Change out the patch on your regular patch change day.
If the patch falls off for more than one day, use a new patch. This will become the new day to apply a new patch. Use a backup birth control method for at least seven days.
If you want to become pregnant, stop using the birth control patch. Though it usually takes a month or two for a woman’s period to return to normal cycle, it is possible to get pregnant right away.
Effectiveness of the patch as contraception
The Ortho Evra patch is very effective when used correctly (placed weekly on the skin for three weeks in a row, removed for one week and then a new patch applied).
Each year, less than 1 percent of women will get pregnant if consistently using the birth control patch as directed. About nine out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they don’t always use the birth control patch as directed.
The birth control patch may be less effective for women who weigh more than 198 pounds.
Certain medications may make the Ortho Evra patch less effective. These include:
- Certain HIV medications
- St. John’s Wort
- Certain anti-seizure medicines
- Rifampin (an antibiotic)
- Certain medications taken by mouth for yeast infections
If you are taking any of these medications, you should consult your health care provider before starting the patch.
Who can use the patch
Most women can use the Ortho Evra patch safely. However, all medications carry some risk so it’s important to discuss birth control options with a doctor.
Ortho Evra patch may not be the best birth control option for women who:
- are on prolonged bed rest
- think they might be pregnant
- have had a heart attack, stroke, angina, or other serious heart problems
- have a blood-clotting disorder
- get migraines with aura
- have had heart valve problems
- have liver disease or liver cancer
- have very bad diabetes
- have lupus
- smoke and have high blood pressure
Benefits of the birth control patch
Using a birth control patch is simple and effective. There is no pill to take each day and nothing to remember right before intercourse.
Many women experience lighter and shorter periods with Ortho Evra. The birth control patch offers similar benefits to the birth control pill, including protection against:
- bad menstrual cramps
- cysts in breast or ovaries
- iron deficiency anemia
- heavy and/or irregular periods
- thinning of bones
- premenstrual headaches and depression
- pelvic inflammatory disease
Side effects of the patch
Some women experience undesirable side effects with the patch. These can include bleeding between periods, nausea, vomiting, or breast tenderness. These side effects usually clear up after two to three months of patch usage.
A woman may also experience a reaction or irritation where she puts the patch on her skin. Rarely women will report an irreversible hypopigmentation (unusual lack of skin color) where the patch was applied. Talk with a doctor if side effects continue after using Ortho Evra for three months.