The pregnancy patch
Find out more about the sticky plasters that equal safer sex here.
What is it?
For women only, the pregnancy patch is a matchbox-sized square of adhesive material containing the hormones oestrogen and progestogen. They are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream and have the same effect as the combined oral contraceptive pill (commonly known as the pill) - they thicken the mucus around the cervix, which makes it difficult for sperm to get into the womb.
The pregnancy patch is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy (when used correctly) and goes under the trade name Evra.
How is it used?
Women apply the patch on the first day of their menstrual cycle. It must be replaced every seven days, and used for three consecutive weeks. The fourth week is patch free, but the contraceptive effect is still active. If you start wearing the patch on a day other than the first day of your cycle you need to use another method of contraception (such as condoms) for the first seven days of using the patch.
- Less risk of "forgetting your patch" - a problem which commonly troubles pill users (who must remember to take a pill each day).
- Can be used in conjunction with condoms, to maximise the risk reduction of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Contraceptive effectiveness is unaffected should you throw up or suffer from diarrhoea because the dosage is absorbed through the bloodstream.
- It can be worn on most areas of the body, apart from the breasts (for health reasons) and forehead (for stupidity reasons). Common patch sticking points include the upper arm, belly, back or buttock, and it won't come off in the shower or the swimming pool. If it does, you stick it back on (no other back-up contraception is needed should you go without for up to 24 hours).
- No protection against sexually transmitted infections - you will need to use a condom.
- Temporary side-effects such as headaches, moodswings, bleeding between periods and nausea. Expect most side effects to fade away after a month or so.
- Some risk of skin irritation. This may be remedied by varying the position of the patch each time a new one is applied, but consult a medical professional if the irritation persists.
- If your periods come every 23 days or less, you may not be protected, ask your GP (doctor) for advice and use a condom for the first seven days.
Not suitable for:
Women who have a medical reason not to take the combined oral contraceptive pill.
The pregnancy patch is available on the NHS. If you think the pregnancy patch might be for you, consult your GP or drop in at your nearest sexual health clinic (call your hospital switchboard for details).
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