About the contraceptive patch
The contraceptive patch is a small, square, beige-coloured patch that sticks on your skin. It contains the same hormones as the combined pill called oestrogen and progesterone but it releases these through your skin. When used correctly, it is over 99% effective. However, in typical use, the effectiveness is 91%.
How it works
The hormones in the patch prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation). They also make it harder for sperm to get into the womb and reach an egg.
Bleeding between periods is common in the first few cycles of using the patch. If you are using the patch properly, you will still be protected against pregnancy.
How to use it
You can put the patch on most areas of your body. All you need to do is make sure the skin is clean, dry, not very hairy, sore or irritated. Avoid your breasts or areas where clothing might rub it off.
You use a new patch once a week, every week for three weeks. You leave the patch on for the full seven days of each week. On the fourth week, you do not use a patch for seven days. During this patch-free week you will likely get a bleed like a period. After seven patch-free days, you apply a new patch and start the cycle again. There are other usage options that may suit you better so please ask you clinician.
The patch is very sticky and should stay on – even after a bath, shower, or exercise. However, if the patch does fall off, what you do depends on how long it has been off far:
- Less than 48 hours: Stick your patch back on as soon as possible. If it’s not sticky enough, put it in the bin and use a brand new patch. Continue to use your patch as normal and change on your normal change day
- More than 48 hours (or you don’t know when it fell off): Use a new patch as soon as possible and start a new patch cycle. You will now be on day one of your new cycle and need to use another form of contraception for the next seven days
Always throw away your used patches in the foil wrapping provided.
Who can use it
Most women can be fitted with the contraceptive patch. It may not be suitable if:
- You might be pregnant
- You are breastfeeding
- You smoke (or stopped smoking less than a year ago) and are 35 or over
- You are very overweight
- You take certain medicines, such as some antibiotics, St John’s Wort or medicines used to treat epilepsy, tuberculosis (TB) or HIV
You will also not be able to use the patch if you have (or have had) any of the following conditions:
- Blood clots (thrombosis)
- A heart problem or a disease affecting your blood circulatory system (including high blood pressure)
- Migraine with aura (disturbs your vision)
- Breast cancer
- Liver or gallbladder disease
- Diabetes with complications or diabetes for more than 20 years
There are many advantages to using the contraceptive patch:
- Easy to use
- You only have to remember to change the patch once a week
- Effective even if you vomit or have diarrhoea
- Can make your periods more regular, lighter and less painful
- Can help with premenstrual symptoms
- May reduce the risk of ovarian, womb and bowel cancer, fibroids, ovarian cysts and noncancerous breast disease
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the contraceptive patch:
- May be visible to others, depending on where you put it
- Can cause skin irritation, itching and soreness (moving the location of the patch each week will help)
- Does not protect you against STIs, so you may need to use condoms as well
- May have mild temporary side effects at first including headaches, feeling sick, tender breasts and mood changes
- Increases your risk of developing a blood clot, which can block a vein or artery. Your risk is higher if you smoke, are very overweight, unable to move about, are diabetic, have high blood pressure, regularly have migraines with disturbed vision, or if a close family member had venous thrombosis, a heart attack or stroke before they were 45. If you are in any doubt, ask your clinician for advice
Where to get it
Most types of contraception are free in the UK, and are available to all women and men through the NHS. Places where you can get contraception include:
- Most GP surgeries – talk to your GP or practice nurse
- Community contraception clinics
- Some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
- Sexual health clinics like those run by Virgin Care, which offer both contraceptive and STI services. If you’d like to, you can book an appointment now
- Some young people’s services, like those run by Brook
You will need to see a clinician and get a prescription for the patch. You will normally be given a three month supply first. If you get on fine with it, then you will be given a longer prescription of 6 to 12 months.