The contraceptive patch (also known as Evra) is a sticky patch that you put on your skin which releases the hormones oestrogen and progestogen into your blood stream, preventing pregnancy.
The patch is very similar to the combined contraceptive pill and works on a 28-day cycle.
You apply a new patch every 7 days for 21 days, and then have a 7 day patch-free break. During this break you will have a bleed, which is similar to having a period.
At the end of the 7 day break, you start a new cycle by applying a new patch.
How does it work?
The patch works in the same way as the combined pill, and so the main thing it does is stop eggs from being released (ovulation).
It also works by thickening cervical mucous to prevent sperm from being able to reach an egg, and by thinning the lining of the womb - so that if an egg was fertilised, it would not be able to implant.
How effective is it?
When the patch is used correctly (which means using it according to instructions) it is more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.
Advantages of the hormonal patch:
- using the patch does not interrupt sex
- you only have to remember to change it once a week
- research shows that using the patch provides some protection against ovarian, womb and colon cancer
- lighter periods, with reduced period pain and premenstrual symptoms
Disadvantages of the hormonal patch:
When you start using the patch you may experience some temporary side effects, such as:
- breast tenderness
- light bleeding
- mood changes
- skin irritation
There can also be some more serious side effects, such as:
- blood becoming stickier
- a slight increase in the risk of blood clots
- a slight increase in the risk of breast and cervical cancer
Some of these risks may be greater, depending on your family medical history.
Things to bear in mind:
The patch is not suitable for everyone. It is important that the doctor or nurse prescribing it to you is aware of your medical and family medical history and any other medication you are taking.
You are less likely to be prescribed the patch if you:
- have high blood pressure
- are over 35
- are a smoker
- suffer from migraines
- are very overweight
Other medications (eg epileptic medicines or TB treatment) and/or vomiting caused by taking common antibiotics like penicillin can make your pill less effective, so an additional method of contraception, like condoms, should be used.
Always seek advice from your doctor or sexual health clinic if you start new medicines or have diarrhoea or vomiting while using the patch.
Most importantly, the contraceptive patch does not provide any protection against HIV or other sexually transmitted infections like a condom does.
Where can I get it from and how much does it cost?
The contraceptive patch is available free on the NHS. You can only get it on prescription from your GP, a practice nurse, a sexual health clinic or young person's clinic.