Types of Birth Control Methods: Birth Control Patch

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Unseen Caucasian woman applying birth control patch to lower back

Many women use the birth control patch (Ortho Evra), a thin, beige-colored plastic patch that sticks to your skin. The patch is a safe, effective (up to 99%), and convenient way to prevent pregnancy. It is especially good for women who don't want to worry about taking a pill every day.

How Does the Birth Control Patch Work?

The birth control patch contains the same female hormones that are in most birth control pills—estrogen and progestin—and it works in much the same way. The main difference between the birth control pill and birth control patch is how the medicine is delivered. Instead of getting the medicine in a pill, it is absorbed through your skin.

The hormones released by the patch prevent pregnancy in three ways:

  • Inhibit ovulation to prevent pregnancy

  • Thicken your cervical mucus to block the sperm from fertilizing your egg

  • Thin the lining of your uterus to make it hard for a fertilized egg to implant itself in your uterus

The birth control patch won't protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The best way to prevent STDs is to use a condom every time you have sex.

How Effective Is the Birth Control Patch?

The birth control patch is very effective (91% to 99%) at preventing pregnancy when you use it as directed. However, its effectiveness may be reduced when you take other medicines, such as certain antibiotics and antiseizure medicines. If your doctor prescribes a new medicine for you, ask about its possible interaction with the patch and see if you should use another form of birth control temporarily. 

How Do I Use the Birth Control Patch?

During a single month you wear three patches, one for each of three weeks, and then you have a patch-free week. Your healthcare provider will tell you when to start wearing your first patch. Most women start the patch within the first five days after their period begins.

Stick one of the three patches on your stomach, upper outer arm, upper back, or buttocks every week for three consecutive weeks. During this time, the patch will release hormones that will prevent you from getting pregnant. Once the patch is in place, you don’t have to think about it again for another week. You can shower, swim, and work out with the patch on.

When you change your patch, don’t use the same location as the last patch. Instead, vary the site where you stick each new patch. Also, never put a patch on your breasts or on cut or irritated skin.

After using the three patches for three weeks you will have a week where you don't wear a patch. This is when you will have your period. After your patch-free week, you will start over with a new patch on your regular start day.

Keep the skin where you wear your patch free from oils, lotions and powder. They can reduce the stickiness of the patch. Check your patch every day to make sure it is not loose. If you forget to replace your patch; if it falls off by accident; or if you have any concerns about its effectiveness, use a backup form of birth control such as a condom, and call your healthcare provider.

What Are Possible Birth Control Patch Side Effects?

The hormones in the birth control patch can have rare, but serious side effects including blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. Less serious and more common side effects may include:

These side effects generally lessen within a few months of using the patch. If they don't get better, or if you notice other side effects, tell your healthcare provider.

Positive side effects that you may experience with the patch include: 

  • Less menstrual cramping and premenstrual symptoms (PMS)
  • Improved appearance of your skin
  • Shorter and lighter periods

The hormones in the patch may also provide protection against certain diseases, including ovarian and endometrial cancer, noncancerous breast lumps, cysts, iron deficiency anemia, and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Where Can I Get the Patch?

Birth control patches are available only by prescription. You can purchase them at a drugstore, health center, or clinic. The birth control patch costs $15 to $70 a month.

Most women are able to get pregnant soon after stopping the patch. However, the patch is not right for everyone. Talk to your doctor to learn more about the patch and together you can decide if it is right for you. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 4
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.