06 November 2006

10 questions about the contraceptive patch

What is the contraceptive patch and how does it work?

Imagine not having to remember taking the Pill every day, but only sticking on a patch three times per month.

Although the patch has only been on the market for little over two years, more US women use the patch than the Pill.

But what is this and how does it work?

What does the contraceptive patch look like?
The patch is beige in colour, thin, and about 3cm by 3cm. It is thin and soft and is adhesive.

How effective is this patch?
If used correctly, the patch is 99% effective. The effectiveness of any contraceptive is influenced by your age, how regularly you have sex and whether you follow instructions carefully. It is also affected by your weight – the patch is less effective in women who weigh more than 90kg.

How does the patch work?
The patch works by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg, the same as the Pill. This is done by slowly releasing oestrogen and progestin into your bloodstream through your skin. The patch must be changed every week on the same day for three weeks – week four is patch-free.

What are the advantages of the patch?
The patch only needs to be replaced once a week – it's less trouble than taking the Pill every day. The hormones also are not absorbed through the stomach, so if you have diarrhoea or stomach problems, it will not affect the working of your contraceptive. It is also not affected by the use of certain antibiotics, as the Pill can be. The patch is easy to use and it regulates your periods. It is non-invasive.

Who shouldn't use the patch?
Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding and who smoke more than 15 cigarettes a day should not use the patch, says Dr Alan Alperstein, a leading Cape Town gynaecologist, attached to the Groote Schuur Hospital. He also says it is less effective in women who weigh more than 90kg. If a woman has had any of the following conditions, it may not be a good idea for her to use the patch: Blood clots in the veins, a heart problem, high blood pressure, severe migraines, breast cancer, active disease of the liver and gall bladder, diabetes, unexplained vaginal bleeding.

How is the patch used?
Once a week, every week, a patch is applied to the upper arm, the shoulder, the buttock or the abdomen. It does not become detached, even if you swim or shower. The humidity of the climate has no effect on the adhesive level of the patch.

Which hormones are contained in the patch?
The patch contains two types of hormones – oestrogen and progestin.

What happens in the patch-free week?
In the patch-free week (Week 4) you will have a withdrawal bleed. At the end of this week, you will start a new cycle.

What happens if I forget to change the patch on time?
This does not mean that you will no longer have contraceptive cover. The cover given by the patch, will last for two more days after the week is over.

Do I need a prescription for the patch?
Yes, you do. So before you start using the patch, you will have to see your doctor.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24)

Visit Health24’s Contraception Section


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