What are they? Skin patches are another type of ERT. Examples are Alora, Climara, Estraderm, and Vivelle-Dot. Combination estrogen and progestin patches -- like Climara Pro and Combipatch -- are also available. Menostar has a lower dose of estrogen than other patches, and it's only used for reducing the risk of osteoporosis. It doesn't help with other menopause symptoms.
Usually, you would wear the patch on your lower stomach, beneath the waistline. You would then change the patch once or twice a week, according to the instructions.
Pros. In addition to offering the same benefits as oral therapy, this type of estrogen treatment has several additional advantages. For one, the patch is convenient. You can stick it on and not worry about having to take a pill each day.
While estrogen pills can be dangerous for people with liver problems, patches are OK, because the estrogen bypasses the liver and goes directly into the blood. A 2007 study also showed that the patch does not pose a risk of blood clots in postmenopausal women like oral estrogen does, though more studies are needed before making definitive conclusions on whether patches are safer than pills. Right now, all estrogens carry the same black-box warning with respect to clot formation.
Cons. While some experts believe that estrogen patches may be safer than oral estrogen in other ways, it's too early to know. So, for now, assume that estrogen patches pose most of the same risks -- a very small increase in the risk of serious problems, like cancer and stroke. They also have many similar -- although perhaps milder -- side effects. These include painful and swollen breasts, vaginal discharge, headache, and nausea. The patch itself might irritate the skin where you apply it.
Estrogen patches should not be exposed to high heat or direct sunlight. Heat can make some patches release the estrogen too quickly, giving you too high a dose at first and then too low a dose later. So don't use tanning beds or saunas while you're wearing an estrogen patch.