Contraceptive Implants

How Does The Contraceptive Implant Work?
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Key takeaways

  • The contraceptive implant includes an man-made form of the hormone progesterone, the same as in the Pill and the mini pill

  • It works by preventing you releasing eggs (ovulation) and by thickening the mucus at the neck of womb, making it harder for sperm to get through

  • The implant is inserted into your arm using a local anesthetic so it doesn’t hurt. It can  stay there and provide protection for up to 3 years

  • The implant won’t protect from STIs so you will need to use other protection like condoms

  • The implant can cause side effects like mood swings, headaches, and breast tenderness

Contents of this article

The contraceptive implant is a small plastic rod (4cm long, 0.2 cm wide – as wide as a matchstick) that is placed under the skin of the upper arm. It releases the hormone progestin, the artificial form of progesterone, in the body. It provides 99% effective contraceptive protection for three years.

By releasing a slow, steady dose of progestin, implant contraception indirectly causes changes to the tissues in the uterus so that it's nearly impossible for sperm to reach the fallopian tubes and the ovaries.

Progestin-based implants can also suppress ovulation, although they are less likely to have this effect than estrogen-based products like the combined contraceptive pill.

The contraceptive implant does not provide any protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Implant Contraception

The contraceptive implant is inserted in the inner side of the upper arm. The area around it sometimes bruises and feels sore for a few days following insertion. Your doctor will use a local anaesthetic, to ensure the insertion does not hurt. This small operation involves a small cut and should take only a few minutes. Afterwards, you will need to use back-up type of contraception (for example a condom) for a week, to give the implant time to start working.

Implant birth control will protect you from pregnancy for three years. After that, you'll need to have the implant removed and changed for a new one, if you would like to continue using implant birth control.

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Advantages of the Contraceptive Implant

If you decide to get pregnant, the contraceptive implant can be removed at any time and you will regain your fertility shortly afterwards. It provides long-term contraception for 3 years and eliminates the need to use contraceptive measures on a regular basis. However, if you are having sex with a partner who might carry an infection, you must ensure ensure you use a condom in addition.

Implant birth control relieves heavy and painful periods, just like the pill. It only contains progestin and is assumed to have a smaller risk of side effects (compared to oral contraceptives which contain oestrogen).

Contraceptive Implant Side Effects

The contraception implant can cause side effects in some women. In the first year, many women suffer from irregular bleeding and changes to their periods, which can sometimes become heavier. It is estimated, that while 20% of women using the implant will have very light to no bleeding at all, another 50% of women will suffer from irregular periods.

Note that if irregular bleeding persists, you should tell your doctor. There is a chance that this could be due to an infection rather than the implant. Another side effect of the contraceptive implant can be the worsening of pre-existing acne. However, some women also notice an improvement to their skin while using an implant.

Mood swings, headaches and breast tenderness are also possible side-effects of the implant, as with any other hormonal treatment. Some women also complain of pelvic and back pain, dizziness and nausea. If your implant is causing any of these side effects, please visit a doctor.

Fitting and Contraceptive Implant Removal

The preparation and insertion take only 15 minutes altogether (and the insertion itself only takes a minute). Following this, your doctor will show you how to check that the implant is in the correct place.

Your arm will be put in a bandage, which you are advised to keep on for about 3-5 days. Bruising and mild pain are normal at this stage, but once your body has got used to the implant, you will not need to visit a doctor again unless you want to discuss an issue, such as:

  • You cannot feel the implant anymore
  • The skin around the implant is numb or painful
  • You are pregnant, in which case you need to get the implant removed quickly

The use of contraceptive implants is not recommended in women who have had a heart attack or a stroke, suffer from liver cancer or disease, have a history of breast cancer, have had blood clots, are overweight or obese.

The contraceptive implant removal is as quick as the fitting procedure. Your doctor will give you an anaesthetic injection in order to be able to remove the implant without causing you any discomfort.

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