Women rethink patch

It is like a paper-thin sticker that can be worn on the shoulder blade, upper arm, lower stomach or butt. Remembering to replace it once a week is easier than once a day. However, studies have been done recently to compare life-threatening risks to similar products.

“It” is the Ortho Evra birth control patch. The Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc. introduced the contraceptive known as “the first and only weekly birth control patch” in May 2002, according to the Web site www.orthoevra.com. The convenience of wearing one patch a week and then going without it during the week of the user’s menstrual cycle has attracted millions of women.

Although it is convenient, easy to remember and fairly discreet, the question researchers are arguing is, “is it safe?” Sue Perkins, a nurse practitioner at the Bowling Green State University Health Center, said the patch is basically like the birth control pill and has the same risks.

“There is a risk in the synthetic form [of estrogen] in the levels that are in the contraceptives,” Perkins said.

Women who use the patch are exposed to 60 percent more estrogen than other 35 mcg birth control pills, according to www.prescribersletter.com. This Web site sends updated information to its members about any type of prescription drug and reports that the concern about the patch is that it gives a higher dose of estrogen.

Any synthetic type of estrogen can be harmful to a women’s body, Perkins said. She couldn’t medically say why but it’s a known fact that estrogen can cause blood clots. Blood clots can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Thus, the more estrogen a woman receives from any form of birth control results in the higher the risk of these consequences.

An article in the Contraceptive Technology Update, a monthly magazine that reports on the latest prescription drugs and women’s health, said that Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc. conducted two experiments with the Ortho Evra patch. The studies “indicate no increased risk of heart attack or stroke for women who choose the patch, but data conflict on the occurrence of venous thromboembolism [VTE],” according to the article.

Venous thromboembolism, or a blood clot, was found to be as much of a risk from the patch as it is from the pill, according to the results from the first study. In the second study, which the results have not yet been fully released publicly but should be released sometime this month, “indicate an approximate twofold [double] increase in the risk of VTE in patch users compared with those using a comparable oral contraceptive,” the article reported.

These two studies and concerns about the patch arose when the public was informed about the death of an 18-year-old woman in April 2004 who was using the patch. Then, in November 2005, the article reports that the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] corrected Ortho Evra’s label that “added a bolded warning that the patch exposes women to higher total amounts of estrogen than a typical birth control pill containing 35 mcg estrogen.”

Even though there are concerns about the risks of the patch, Perkins said there needs to be more research and studies done about it. Two University students have different opinions about the patch and its risks.

Amanda Todd, junior, said that she was only on the patch for about a month but didn’t like it at all.

“I was always so nervous about it. It was the first time I was on birth control and I just didn’t think it was working for me,” Todd said. “I was constantly checking it to see if it was still there on my body.”

Todd added that she had heard about the risks of the patch but that it wasn’t her reasoning for switching to the pill.

“I just worried so much about the patch and it got to the point where I was getting so stressed out about if it was working or not. Now, I’m on the pill and I’m really happy with it,” Todd said.

Unlike Todd, Mary Twohig, junior, was on the pill first before she switched to the patch.

“I’d have to set an alarm everyday and then I’d still forget to take it,” Twohig said. “There was just no way of me remembering to take it. I like the patch a lot better because it is just so much more convenient for me.”

Twohig said she has heard a lot of talk about the higher risks that go along with the patch but thinks all birth controls are the same.

“I’m not too worried about the patch because the stats that say something could happen are so small. It has the same effectiveness that the pill has so I’m just not that worried about it,” Twohig added.

Although women who use any type of a birth control contraceptive should be aware of the risks involved, not many doctors are anxious to take their patients off the patch. Perkins said that she maintains prescribing the patch if students want to be on it.

“I’ve seen no problems with the patch at BG,” Perkins said. “I’ve got a lot of people that like the patch and a lot of people who don’t like it because it tends to come off and they’re afraid they’re not absorbing all the hormones.”

Perkins said she would not personally tell anyone to stop the use of the patch just because of what they hear in the media, but a few students have asked her to switch their birth controls because their doctors told them to stop using Ortho Evra. There have also been students that just wanted to switch to something else because of their own personal worries about the patch. Still, Perkins repeated herself and said, “I just think they need to do more studies.”

Twohig added: “Birth controls are all about the same. I like the patch because it is the most convenient thing for my busy life.”