What is a birth control patch?
The birth control patch is a safe, simple, and affordable method of birth control. It is a transdermal patch used as a method of contraception, which can be worn on the skin of the upper arm, belly, buttocks, or back. The patch is usually changed every week for three weeks and then you go patchless in the fourth week in time for your menstrual period. Before you repeat the cycle, you get a week off.
Synthetic hormones such as estrogen and progestin are released by this patch, so that pregnancy can be prevented. The patch is worn on certain areas of the body to release similar naturally produced hormones, which are then absorbed by the skin.
Ovulation can also be prevented by a birth control patch. The combination of estrogen and progestin prevents ovulation. When a female ovulates, her ovary releases an egg, which can be fertilized by a sperm. If there is no egg released, females cannot get pregnant since there would be nothing for the male sperm to fertilize.
Moreover, cervical mucus also begins to thicken, which makes it difficult for the sperm to swim toward the egg. Although women can prevent pregnancy by using birth control patches, it does not automatically mean that they are protected against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Sexually active individuals must still use condoms along with birth control patches to ensure protection against STDs. The only method that can surely prevent pregnancy, as well as STDs, is abstinence.
The Pros and Cons of the Birth Control Patch
Let's take a look at the pros and cons of using a birth control patch.
- The patch is very easy and simple to use.
- It does not interrupt sex.
- Unlike taking oral contraceptive pills, which require taking one pill every day, you only need to change the patch once a week for three weeks.
- Even if you experience vomiting and diarrhea, the patch still works since the hormones that it releases are not absorbed by the stomach.
- A birth control patch can help you have less painful, lighter, and more regular menstrual periods.
- It can help relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
- It may also help reduce the risk of developing benign (noncancerous) breast disease, fibroids, and ovarian cysts.
- It can help reduce the risk of developing cancer of the ovaries, uterus, and bowels.
- The patch may be visible.
- Skin itching, soreness, and irritation can occur with its use.
- The patch does not provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), so the use of condoms may still be necessary.
- Side effects can be experienced, such as nausea, headaches, mood changes, and breast tenderness, although these symptoms tend to go away after a few months of using a patch.
- Spotting or bleeding between menstrual periods can be experienced during the first few cycles of using the birth control patch. This symptom is usually not a cause for concern, especially if you are using the patch properly.
- Birth control patches can become less effective when certain types of medications are used. Consult your doctor for a proper evaluation.
- You need to change the patch once a week for three weeks, unlike other contraceptive methods, such as intrauterine devices or hormonal implants, which can last for a longer period of time.
Who can use a birth control patch?
Even though a birth control patch can prevent a pregnancy, it may not be suitable for certain individuals. You may be unable to use a patch if you have any of the following conditions:
- You smoke and more than 35 years old.
- You are 35 years old or older and has recently stopped smoking for less than a year.
- You are pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant.
- You are currently breastfeeding an infant, who is less than 6 weeks old.
- You are obese or very overweight.
- You are currently taking medications for the treatment of HIV, tuberculosis, and epilepsy.
- You are taking certain types of antibiotics.
- You are taking St. John's Wort.
You may also be unable to use a birth control patch if you have or have had any of the following conditions:
- Diabetes with complications.
- Liver or gallbladder diseases.
- Breast cancer.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
- Migraines with aura.
- Heart disease.
- High blood pressure.
- Arterial or venous blood clots, or having a family member who had a blood clot before turning 45 years old.
The Risks of Using a Birth Control Patch
Using hormonal contraceptives may also accompany some serious side effects. However, the benefits of using a birth control patch often outweigh the potential risks for most women. See a doctor to discuss all the benefits and possible risks of using a patch.
It is quite important not to use a birth control patch if you have had a blood clot in the past. In certain cases, women who use a birth control patch may develop arterial or venous blood clots. The risk of blood clot formation also increases if:
- You are a smoker.
- You are obese or very overweight.
- You are in your first year of using a birth control patch.
- You have diabetes.
- You have varicose veins that are severe.
- You frequently experience migraines with aura.
- You use a wheelchair or unable to move (immobile).
- You have a family history of stroke, heart attack, or blood clot.
According to research, women who use a birth control patch tend to have a small risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who have not used a patch. However, this slight risk also decreases when women stop using the patch.
Another research suggests that women may have a small risk of developing cervical cancer, particularly if they use hormonal contraception (estrogen and progestin) for a long period of time.
Minor side effects can be experienced by women for the first few months if using the patch. Some of the common side effects experienced include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure).
- Breast tenderness.
- Vaginal itching (pruritus).
- Vaginal discharge.
- Spotting or bleeding between menstrual periods.
- Mood changes or mood swings.
There are also serious side effects that are associated with the use of birth control patches and they include:
- Calf vein thrombosis.
- Myocardial infarction.
- Pulmonary embolism.
Is it really effective?
If the patch is properly used, it can be 99 percent effective, according to Planned Parenthood. However, since every person is unique and not perfect, the patch can be approximately 91 percent effective in reality. Every year, 9 out of 100 birth control patch users conceive or get pregnant.
Factors that can affect the effectiveness of the patch may include forgetting to change the patch once a week or when the patch falls off. If you keep on forgetting to change the patch every week or tend to frequently misplace things, other methods of contraception that does not need to be changed every week might be better for you. These methods include birth control shots, an implant, or an intrauterine device (IUD).