The contraceptive patch is a combined hormone form of contraception, containing oestrogen and progestogen hormones. It is essentially the same type of contraception as the combined oral contraceptive pill but it is used in a patch form instead of taking pills by mouth. The contraceptive patch is stuck onto the skin so that the two hormones are continuously delivered to the body. This gives contraceptive cover.
There is one combined contraceptive patch available in the Ireland called Evra. The contraceptive patch is available from the D2 Medical, family planning clinic or sexual health clinic. You should remember that the contraceptive patch will not protect you from sexually transmitted infections. You should use condoms to protect against these.
The contraceptive patch works mainly by changing the body’s hormone balance so that you do not ovulate. That is, you do not release an egg (ovum) each month from an ovary. In addition, it causes the mucus made by the cervix to thicken and form a ‘mucus plug’ in the cervix. This makes it difficult for sperm to get through to the uterus (womb) to fertilise an egg. The contraceptive patch also makes the lining of the uterus thinner. This makes it unlikely that a fertilised egg will be able to attach to the uterus.
It is over 99% effective if used correctly. This means that less than 1 woman in 100 using the contraceptive patch correctly will become pregnant each year. Compare this to when no contraception is used: more than 80 in 100 sexually active women who do not use contraception become pregnant within one year.
It is very effective and easy to use. It does not interfere with sex. You do not have to remember to take a pill every day but just have to remember to change the patch once a week. The patch is small and discreet so people won’t easily notice that you are wearing it. It is skin coloured and is about 5cm x 5cm in size. The patch sticks well to your skin. It can be worn continuously, even while you are bathing, showering, exercising and swimming.
Your periods are often lighter, less painful, and more regular when you are using the contraceptive patch. If you have vomiting or diarrhoea, the contraceptive patch is still effective (unlike when you are taking the pill). This is because the hormones are absorbed into your bloodstream through your skin, rather than through your gastrointestinal tract (stomach and gut).
The other advantages of the contraceptive patch are thought to be similar to those of the combined contraceptive pill. However, because it is a newer form of contraception, there have not been as many research studies with the contraceptive patch as there have been with the pill. For example, the contraceptive patch may relieve pre-menstrual tension. It may also reduce the risk of pelvic infection (as the ‘mucus plug’ may prevent bacteria, as well as sperm, from getting into the uterus). It may help to protect against some benign (non-cancerous) breast disease. It may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cyst in the ovary. It may reduce the risk of developing cancers of the ovary, colon and uterus (womb).
Some women have skin irritation when they use the contraceptive patch. This is usually itching, redness or soreness. About 2 in 100 women have to stop using the patch because of skin irritation. Even though the patch sticks well most of the time, there is a possibility that it can become detached from the skin, either totally or partially. This is not common but can mean that its effectiveness as contraception can be lost. Despite its discreet design, some women still feel that the contraceptive patch can be seen.
Some women get some mild side effects when they first start using the contraceptive patch. If side effects do occur, they tend to settle down within the first few months. Possible side effects can include:
Breast discomfort and tenderness.
Slight changes in body weight (these are small and are similar to those that can occur with the pill).
Nausea (feeling sick).
Breakthrough bleeding (bleeding between your periods) and spotting (light, irregular bleeding).
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