The Birth-Control Patch
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The Birth-Control Patch

The Patch releases the hormones progestin and estrogen through the skin into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy.

Ortho Evra™, the first FDA-approved contraceptive patch, releases the hormones progestin and estrogen through the skin into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. An alternative to birth-control pills, the thin, beige, 1 3/4-inch square clings to your skin like a band-aid. The patch should be applied to the lower abdomen, buttocks, or upper torso, excluding the breasts. The patch is worn for a week at a time and is changed on the same day of the week for three consecutive weeks. The fourth week is "patch-free," when a user should experience her period.

Effectiveness

The patch is 99 percent effective when used correctly -- comparable to birth-control pills.

Advantages

The patch is extremely effective in preventing pregnancy. It is much easier for many women to use the patch, as it is much more convenient to change a patch once a week than to remember to take a pill every day. Most of the reported 7 percent failure rate of oral contraceptives is due to missed pills. The patch remains effective when a woman changes her patch at any time on her weekly "Patch Change Day." It can be worn on different parts of the body and remains attached and effective while bathing, swimming, or exercising, or in humid conditions. It is thin enough to be worn discreetly beneath clothing.

Disadvantages

The patch does not provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases. It contains hormones similar to those found in birth-control pills, causing many of the same side effects, such as breast discomfort, headache, moodiness, and nausea. Additional side effects can include upper-respiratory infection, menstrual cramps, and abdominal pain. Two percent of women experienced accidental detachment of the patch, while another 2 percent had to discontinue use because of skin irritation where the patch was applied. It seems to be less effective for women weighing over 198 pounds. Women who use the patch are strongly advised not to smoke, as doing so can increase the risk of severe cardiovascular effects. The patch is not recommended for women who have blood clots, certain cancers, or history of heart attack or stroke, or for those who are or may be pregnant. At the moment, the patch only comes in a peach tone, although Ortho McNeil is testing other colors. Some women have complained that the patch becomes grimy over time.

Availability

The patch is widely available by prescription.

Cost

The price for a one-month supply of Ortho Evra to Title X clinics is $9.80 -- a steep reduction from the retail cost, which can top $30.

From the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.

 
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