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Here are some of the most common questions we hear women ask about the birth control patch. We hope you find the answers helpful.
The birth control patch is a thin, beige, plastic patch that sticks to the skin. It's used to prevent pregnancy. A new patch is placed on the skin once a week for three weeks in a row, followed by a patch-free week.
The birth control patch is commonly called Ortho Evra, its brand name. The maker of Ortho Evra has stopped making the birth control patch, based on business decisions. If you use Ortho Evra, talk with your doctor or nurse about switching to another brand of birth control patch called Xulane or to another type of birth control.
Other options similar to the patch include the birth control pill or ring, which have the same hormones as Ortho Evra. Or you may want to consider getting an implant or IUD — these safe, convenient methods
Like other methods of birth control, the birth control patch releases hormones. Hormones are chemicals made in our bodies. They control how different parts of our bodies work.
The hormones in the birth control patch work by
Effectiveness is an important and common concern when choosing a birth control method. The birth control patch is very effective. It works best when it is always placed on the skin on time. That keeps the correct level of hormone in a woman’s body.
The patch may be less effective for women who are overweight. Talk with your health care provider if you are concerned about how well the patch may work for you.
Certain medicines and supplements may make the birth control patch less effective. These include
Most women can use the patch safely. But all medications have some risks, so safety is a concern when choosing a birth control method. Serious side effects of the birth control patch, though rare, may be more likely if you have certain conditions. Some of these conditions may even rule out using the patch. Talk with your health care provider to find out if the patch is likely to be safe for you.
You should not use the patch during prolonged bed rest or if you
If you have a condition that makes it unsafe to use the patch, don’t worry. There are many other methods of birth control that may be safe for you if you cannot use it. Read about other methods to find one that is right for you.
Using the birth control patch is safe, simple, and convenient. There is nothing to do right before having sex. Some women say it improves their sex lives because it helps them feel more spontaneous.
Many women who use the patch have more regular, lighter, and shorter periods. And a woman’s ability to become pregnant returns quickly when use of the patch is stopped.
Because the patch works like the pill, it probably offers the same benefits. These health benefits may include some protection against
Because the birth control patch works like the pill, it probably carries the same possible disadvantages.
Some women may have undesirable side effects while using the birth control patch. But many women adjust to it with few or no problems.
Some of the most common side effects usually clear up after two or three months. They include
The birth control patch may also cause more long-lasting side effects. The hormones in the patch may change a woman’s sexual desire. A woman may also have a reaction or irritation where she puts the patch on her skin.
It’s important that you find a method that won’t make you feel sick or uncomfortable. If you continue to experience side effects after using the birth control patch for three months, talk with your health care provider.
After a woman stops using the patch, it usually takes one or two months for her periods to return to the cycle she had before using it. Once in a while, a woman may have irregular or absent periods. This may go on for as long as six months after stopping. This is more likely if her periods were irregular before using the patch.
Many women have concerns about the possible risks of taking hormones in birth control. Serious problems do not occur often.
Women who use birth control with estrogen — like the patch — have a slightly greater chance of certain rare, but serious, problems than nonusers. The most serious — in very rare cases — may be fatal. These include heart attack, stroke, having a blood clot in the legs, lungs, heart, or brain. Studies have found that women using the patch may have a higher risk of getting blood clots than women taking most kinds of birth control pills. But a woman’s overall risk of any major problem while using the patch is low.
Other rare risks include developing high blood pressure, liver tumors, gallstones, or yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice).
The risk for these problems increases if you
Serious problems usually have warning signs. Report any of these signs to your health care provider as soon as possible:
See the insert from your patch package for more information about possible side effects.
The Birth Control Patch and Breast Cancer
You may have heard claims linking the hormones in the patch to breast cancer. The most recent literature suggests that the use of these hormones in birth control has little, if any, effect on the risk of developing breast cancer.
To find out what day is best for you to start using the patch, talk with your health care provider. Most often, women start using the patch within the first five days after the start of their periods. That way, they are protected against pregnancy right away. That means that if your period starts on a Wednesday morning, you can apply the patch as late as the following Monday morning to be protected right away.
If you start the patch later than five days after the start of your period, protection will begin after seven days. Use another method of birth control — like a condom, female condom, diaphragm, or sponge — if you have vaginal intercourse during the first week of use.
It’s possible to get pregnant again shortly after being pregnant. Starting birth control after pregnancy is an important concern for many women.
You can start using the patch after waiting at least three weeks after giving birth vaginally.
You can start using the patch after waiting at least six weeks if you are nursing — it may reduce the amount and quality of milk in the first six weeks of breastfeeding. Also, the milk will contain traces of the patch's hormones. It is unlikely that these hormones will have any effect on your child. But talk with a health care provider about what birth control methods might be right for you after giving birth.
You should wait at least six weeks after birth if you have an increased risk of blood clots. Women have a higher risk of blood clots if they
• are obese
• are over age 35
• had a cesarean section (C-section)
• had heavy bleeding after delivery
• had preeclampsia
• have certain inherited blood clotting disorders
• have had blood clots in the past
• have a close family member who has had blood clots
• need prolonged bed rest
• received a blood transfusion at delivery
You can start using the patch right after an abortion or miscarriage.
Most women find that the patch is easy to use. You’ll stick one new patch on the skin of your buttocks, stomach, upper outer arm, or back once a week for three weeks in a row. You won’t put on a patch for the fourth week.
Here are some more specific details about using the patch:
During the one-week break, you will usually have your period. You may still be bleeding when it is time to put on another patch. This is normal, too. But the patch must be applied on the same day of the week as it was applied in the last cycle, or pregnancy may occur.
Helpful Tips About Using the Birth Control Patch
It’s pretty common for women to make a mistake at some time when using the birth control patch.
If you use the patch, you may forget to change the patch on time. You may forget to put the patch on after your patch-free week. Or you may make no mistakes, and the patch may become loose or fall off. The key to protecting yourself from an unplanned pregnancy is knowing what to do if any of these things happen to you.
Here are some general instructions. Talk with your health care provider for more information.
If you apply the patch late during week one:
If you apply the patch late during week two or three:
If you are one or two days late changing your patch:
If you are more than two days late changing your patch:
If you forget to remove the patch on time during the fourth week, simply remove the patch when you remember. Apply a new patch on your regular patch change day.
Use a backup method for seven days after you apply the new patch. Wear the replacement patch for one week. If you have had vaginal intercourse without using a backup method, use emergency contraception — up to five days after you have unprotected intercourse.
First, you’ll need to get a prescription. Visit a Planned Parenthood health center, another health center, or a private health care provider for a prescription. Your health care provider will discuss your medical history with you, check your blood pressure, and give you any other medical exam that you may need. If you need an exam, it may cost about $0–$250.
The patch may be purchased with a prescription at a drugstore or clinic. A one-month supply costs about $0–$80.
Planned Parenthood works to make health care accessible and affordable. Some health centers are able to charge according to income. Most accept health insurance. If you qualify, Medicaid or other state programs may lower your health care costs.
Call your local Planned Parenthood health center to get specific information on costs.
Q&A with Dr. Cullins