Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) patches are medicated sticky patches that people apply to the skin. They contain hormones such as estrogen. Doctors may recommend them to help alleviate the symptoms of menopause.
This article describes what HRT patches are and how to switch to them from other forms of HRT. It also outlines the benefits and drawbacks of HRT patches, offers a step-by-step guide on how to use them, and addresses their safety.
HRT patches are medicated patches that stick to the skin and gradually release small amounts of hormones into the body.
Doctors may recommend HRT patches to help with the following:
- alleviating symptoms of menopause
- preventing bone disease, such as osteoporosis, in people who are postmenopausal
- increasing levels of estrogen in females who do not make a sufficient amount naturally
According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), HRT patches may contain estrogen only or a combination of hormones. People sometimes refer to estrogen-only patches as transdermal estradiol patches. Estradiol is a form of estrogen.
The NHS provides some general guidelines for switching to HRT patches from another type of HRT.
It suggests a person can make the switch straight away if their periods have stopped and they have not been taking HRT. They may also switch immediately if they are switching from another type of continuous combined HRT.
However, some people may be switching from sequential combined HRT, which involves taking the medication on certain days and then having a break. In these cases, a person will need to wait until the end of their current cycle of medication before switching to HRT patches.
It is important for individuals to seek medical advice on how to switch from their current HRT medication to HRT patches.
HRT patches can help alleviate menopause symptoms.
According to the
- hot flashes
- vaginal dryness, itching, or burning
- vaginal infections
- decreased libido
- difficulty sleeping
- memory problems
- an urgent need to urinate
- mood changes
Compared with other forms
HRT patches may have benefits over other forms of HRT medication.
For example, patches may be preferable to pills, particularly for individuals who have difficulty remembering to take pills or who have difficulty swallowing them.
HRT patches may cause localized skin discoloration or irritation and leave a mark on the skin.
They may also cause more systemic side effects, such as:
- breast pain or tenderness
- vaginal swelling, itching, or irritation
- vaginal discharge
- painful periods
- changes in libido
- hair loss
- unwanted hair growth
- discoloration of the skin on the face
- weight gain or loss
- muscle pain
- joint pain
- runny nose or congestion
It is best for anyone who notices side effects while using HRT patches to discuss them with a healthcare professional.
Find out how long someone can use HRT.
People apply HRT patches to the skin of the lower abdomen below the waistline or the skin of the upper buttocks. The patches gradually release small amounts of hormones into the body.
The United Kingdom’s NHS explains that a person should not apply HRT patches to the following areas:
- the skin of the breasts
- skin that is oily, damaged, or irritated
- skin creases or folds
- skin exposed to direct sunlight
- skin that is underneath tight or elasticated clothing
People also need to avoid applying lotions, creams, or powders to areas of the skin where they will apply a patch.
Below are some step-by-step instructions on how to apply HRT patches:
- Step 1: Tear open the pouch and remove the patch.
- Step 2: Peel the protective film from the patch and press the sticky side of the patch against the skin of the lower abdomen or upper buttock. Avoid touching the sticky side with the fingers.
- Step 3: Press down firmly on the patch for 10 seconds using the fingers or palm. Ensure that the edges of the patch are attached firmly to the skin.
- Step 4: Wear the patch until it is time to remove it. When it is time to remove the patch, gently peel it off.
- Step 5: After removing the patch, fold it in half so the sticky sides are pressed together. Dispose of it safely so it remains out of reach of children and pets.
- Step 6: After removal, patches may leave a sticky residue on the skin. If this is the case, wait 15 minutes and then remove the residue using an oil or lotion.
How long does a patch last?
The length of time HRT patches last depends partly on the brand. People typically apply transdermal estradiol patches once or twice per week, but some wear the patch all the time. Others may wear the patch every day for 3 weeks, followed by a patch-free week.
People need to wear HRT patches according to their doctor’s prescribing instructions.
Patches will typically stay on during bathing or showering. However, if a patch falls off, a person will need to dry their skin and cool down before applying a new patch to a different area of skin.
What to do if you forget to change an HRT patch
If a person forgets to change their HRT patch, they can change it as soon as they remember and apply the next patch at the usual time.
However, if it is almost time for the person to apply the next patch, it is best to skip the missed patch and change it at the usual time.
Forgetting to change a patch may result in some vaginal bleeding or spotting.
People who frequently forget to change their patch may benefit from setting a reminder on their phone.
HRT patches and other forms of continuous combined HRT may not be suitable for specific individuals, including:
- people who have ever experienced an allergic reaction to estrogen, progestogen, or any other medications
- individuals experiencing unexplained vaginal bleeding
- those who have ever received a diagnosis of breast cancer or endometrial cancer or are at increased risk of developing them
- people who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- individuals who have recently experienced a heart attack, stroke, or angina
- those with a history of blood clots or increased susceptibility to blood clots
- people with any of the following conditions:
- untreated endometrial hyperplasia
- poor liver function
- migraines or severe headaches
- high blood pressure
Possible drug interactions
HRT patches can interact with a range of medications and supplements, including:
- the antiepileptic medication carbamazepine (Carbatrol, Epitol, and Tegretol)
- certain antibiotic medications, including:
- certain antifungal medications, including itraconazole and ketoconazole
- barbiturates, such as phenobarbital
- the antiretroviral drug ritonavir
- thyroid medications, such as levothyroxine
- other medications containing estrogen
- St John’s wort, a herbal supplement
The above list is not exhaustive. People should notify their doctor of any other medications or supplements they are taking before using HRT patches.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) patches are medicated adhesive patches that contain hormones, such as estrogen. They can help boost estrogen levels in people with insufficient levels.
As with other forms of HRT, systemic side effects are possible, such as headache, nausea, and constipation. Anyone who experiences side effects while taking HRT patches should notify their doctor.
People considering HRT can talk with their doctor about the different treatment options, including the risks and benefits. A doctor can help an individual find the treatment option that suits them.