The contraceptive patch 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, the patch is more than 99 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy.
What are the advantages?
Using the patch does not interrupt sex and you only have to remember to change it once a week. Research also shows that using the patch provides some protection against ovarian, womb and colon cancer. Other benefits are lighter periods, reduced period pain and premenstrual symptoms.
What are the downsides?
When you start using the patch you may experience some temporary side effects, such as breast tenderness, light bleeding and mood changes. Also some women find that the patch irritates their skin
There can also be some more serious side effects, such as causing a rise in blood pressure, and slightly increasing the risk of breast and cervical cancer if it used for a number of years.
Things to bear in mind
The patch is not suitable for everyone, and it is important that the doctor prescribing it to you is aware of your medical history and any other medication you are taking. You are less likely to be prescribed it if you have high blood pressure, are a smoker or are very overweight.
Also other medications, such as antibiotics, can make it less effective and an additional method of contraception, like condoms, should be used and seek advice from your doctor
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. This can be from your GP, another GP who you have registered with for family planning services, a practice nurse or a family planning or young person's clinic.