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Tuesday, 8 May, 2001, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
Contraceptive patch gets thumbs up
Contraceptive pill
Alternatives are being developed to the contraceptive pill
Contraceptive patches may be more effective than the Pill at reducing unwanted pregnancies, research suggests.

The patches, which deliver the same hormones as the Pill, are set for introduction in the UK next year.

Scientists have found that the patches work just as well as the Pill - and are more likely to be used responsibly.

It is absolutely vital that what we see in the future is more choice

Toni Belfield, Family Planning Association
They compared the two methods of birth control in a study of 1,417 adult women at 45 clinics in the US and Canada.

They found that both were similarly effective at preventing pregnancies.

However, women were less likely to forget to apply a patch than they were to take the Pill.

This was despite the fact that side-effects such as breast discomfort and period pains were more common among the patch group.

The researchers believe that a wholesale switch to patches might reduce pregnancy rates.

But the study showed no difference in pregnancy rates between the two methods.


Average compliance was 88.2% for women using patches compared with 77.7% for those taking the Pill.

The scientists wrote: "The speculation that the improved compliance will result in lower typical use contraceptive failure rates will need to be confirmed in future studies."

The patches delivered 20 micrograms of oestrogen and 150 micrograms of norelgestromin, a chemical that breaks down into the hormone progestin, through the skin.

Women wearing patches were allowed to maintain their usual activities, including bathing and swimming.

They were instructed to apply one patch on the same day of each week for three consecutive weeks, and then not to wear a patch for a week.

If patches detached, they could be re-applied immediately.

A total of 4.6% of patches were replaced after becoming detached.

Other methods

Toni Belfield, director of information at the Family Planning Association, told BBC News Online that other similar methods to the patch were due to be made available next year.

These include a contraceptive vaginal ring, and monthly injections.

Ms Belfield said: "It is absolutely vital that what we see in the future is more choice because no one contraceptive method is perfect for women.

"The efficacy of the contraceptive patch is likely to be the same as that of the Pill because they deliver the same combination of hormones.

"The patch does reduce the risk of user failure because it is stuck on, and it may be a good choice for women who wish to use a hormonal method of contraception, but don't like the idea of taking a pill."

The study was led by Dr Marie-Claude Audet, at Centre Medical des Halle de Ste-Foy, Quebec, and Dr William Koltun, from the Medical Center for Women's Clinical Research in San Diego, California.

The research is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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08 Mar 01 | Health
Contraception fails UK youth
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