Birth Control Patch Effectiveness, Cost and Cautions

Jeannie Randall
woman applying birth control patch

Many women find that taking a birth control pill every day can be challenging to remember. Switching to the birth control patch, a beige-colored 1-3/4 inch square that adheres to your skin, can provide you with a reliable form of prescription birth control that you don't need to worry about forgetting. The patch has long been available from Janssen Pharmaceuticals under the brand name ORTHO EVRA, and is also available in a generic form, Xulane.

How the Patch Works

According to ORTHO EVRA, this birth control option works by delivering a continuous supply of two synthetic hormones, progestin and estrogen, which hinders pregnancy by preventing you from ovulating.

It also:

  • Makes the cervical mucus thicker, decreasing the likelihood that sperm will be able to get in to the uterus to reach any eggs that may be released
  • Alters the mucus membrane that lines the uterus (endometrium), so that the potential for implantation is lessened

Effectiveness

According to Marshall University, the birth control patch is 92% to 99% effective in most women when used as directed, which is equivalent to the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. However, women who weigh over 198 pounds may find the birth control patch less effective at preventing pregnancy than women who weigh less.

Using the Patch

Placement

According to ORTHO EVRA, the patch can be applied to one of four areas of your body:

  • The front or back of your upper torso, with the exception of your breast
  • Abdomen
  • Buttocks
  • Upper outer arms

Timing

Women should follow their doctor's instructions as to the best way for them to use the patch. According to Healthline, typical usage involves:

  • Place the patch on your upper body (not the breast area) on the first day of your period. If you start using the patch on a different day, it is important to use a back-up method of birth control for the first seven days.
  • A new patch should be applied after one week, on the same day of the week the initial patch was placed. You will do this for three continual weeks.
  • During week four, no patch is applied and a woman should expect to menstruate.
  • Every time you put on a new patch, you have the option of placing it in the same place where the old patch was located or on a different part of your body.

Tips

For Best results:

  • Do not place the patch on areas where make-up, lotion, powders, or creams have been or will be applied.
  • Do not place the patch on areas that are irritated, red, or where there is an abrasion or cut.
  • If you fail to put on a new birth control patch on the same day each week or after the skipped week, or you lose your patch for more than 24 hours, do not forget to use an additional means of birth control to prevent pregnancy.

Xulane Generic Patch

In April of 2014, the first generic version of the birth control patch, Xulane, was made available from Mylan Pharmaceutical Corporation. The generic patch provides the identical combination of hormone treatment as ORTHO EVRA and is used in the same manner. Xulane has been approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Cost

The cost of ORTHO EVRA and its generic counterpart Xulane will vary from pharmacy to pharmacy. According to GoodRX, Xulane is less expensive than its name brand counterpart, ORTHO EVRA.

GoodRX compares prices of the two from several pharmacies and offers downloadable coupons for price reduction. As of May of 2014, ORTHO EVRA's prices range between $121.41 and $128.05 with a coupon, while Xulane prices vary between $47.93 and $96.68 with a coupon.

According to Planned Parenthood, many insurance companies will cover the cost.

Side Effects

As with any form of birth control, side effects are possible. Birth control patches share similar health risks with oral contraceptives. Potential risks should be thoroughly discussed with your health care provider. Use of the contraceptive patch has been linked to increased risk of:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Liver tumors
  • Breast cancer
  • Cancer of the reproductive organs

While serious health risks are uncommon in healthy nonsmokers, there is a risk of developing blood clots in the legs or lungs, strokes, heart attacks, and hypertension.

Minor side effects, according to ORTHO EVRA, include:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding
  • Weight gain
  • Skin irritation at the application site
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain or bloating
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Upper respiratory infection

The ORTHO EVRA contraceptive patch does expose women to a higher steady rate of estrogen levels than most birth control pills. Concern that such exposure could increase the risk for blood clots prompted an update to the product's label.

Cautions

Otho Evra states the patch is not an advisable means of birth control for women who smoke or suffer from any of the following medical conditions:

  • High blood pressure
  • Breast or uterine cancer
  • History of blood clots
  • Diabetes
  • History of stroke or heart attack
  • Allergic to hormones
  • Liver disease
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding

Take Warnings Seriously

Many women use the birth control patch successfully with no complications. For them, it becomes their birth control option of choice. If you experience any problems using it or if you have any of the medical conditions listed above, speak to your doctor about trying something else.

Birth Control Patch Effectiveness, Cost and Cautions