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A New Birth Control Patch--Convenient and Effective

A new study reports an advance in contraception for women--a weekly contraceptive patch. Our health correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains.

Women have been taking the birth control pill for more than 40 years to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and when used correctly it is an extremely effective method of birth control. Now there is more news about an advance that provides another option for women.

It's the contraceptive patch, which is applied directly to the skin to deliver hormones into the bloodstream. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the pill and the patch and found that the patch works just as well as the pill at preventing pregnancy, which is good news for women like Dawn Manroe, who used the patch as a study participant.

"Generally I had a very good experience with the patch and I think it would be a nice option for women," says Manroe. "We're always looking for new options--especially with hormonal methods--and this was a nice unobtrusive method of birth control."

Doctors also say that the women in the study found the patch a welcome change from taking the pill. "Most of the women in this study were women who had taken pills for long periods of time, and the relief of having to use a patch once a week, changing the patch once a week three times a month was something that was extremely well received," says William Koltun, MD, a study author from the Medical Center for Women's Clinical Research in San Diego, California.

The study also found that because women were much better at using the patch than the pill, the patch was much more effective.

Any woman who has taken the pill knows that the biggest problem is remembering to take that little pill every day without fail. Every day you forget to take your pill, your chances of getting pregnant increase. The patch is easier because you only have to remember to change it once a week.

The patch is applied to the outer arm, to the buttocks or to the upper torso (excluding the breasts). It stays on for 1 week, and then a new patch is needed. This process is repeated for 3 weeks and then the fourth week is patch free.

You can swim, take a shower, etcetera, but the makers recommend you don't apply creams or cosmetics on or around the area of the patch. That's the biggest restriction. It proved to be pretty durable: It only came off or had to be replaced in less than 5% of the cases.

The side effects as far as the hormonal treatment goes were very similar to the pill, such as breakthrough bleeding and breast tenderness. There was slightly more of these types of side effects in those who wore the patch at the beginning of treatment, but these wore off as time went on. And of course, there was minor skin irritation for some from wearing the patch.

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing it now and if all goes well, we may see this on the market in the near future.

In addition to the pill, there are injectable frms of contraception. Some can be given once a month, and others are given every 3 months. What's nice about the patch is that you can take the patch off and the effects are immediately reversible.
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