Birth Control Implant: Benefits And Side Effects

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A birth control implant is a four-centimeter-long, soft plastic stick inserted under the skin of a woman’s upper arm. Following implantation, the device slowly releases small doses of progestin, a synthetic steroid, at regular intervals (1).

The hormone released in the body prevents pregnancy and makes birth control implant an effective hormonal contraceptive. But are birth control implants safe? Do they cause pain when inserted into the arm? (2).

Keep reading to learn if birth control implants are safe and understand their effectiveness and risks.

How Does The Implant Work?

The birth control implant is a tiny, thin rod of the size of a matchstick. It is available as the trade name of Nexplanon. It is inserted under the skin of the upper arm. It releases the hormone progestin, and it helps avoid unexpected pregnancy. The hormone responsible for birth control act in the following ways to prevent pregnancy (3).

  • Progestin thickens the mucus on the cervix. It prevents the sperm from reaching the egg, preventing pregnancy.
  • Progestin prevents ovulation. When there are no eggs to fertilize, pregnancy does not happen.

How Effective Is A Birth Control Implant?

The implant is one of the best contraceptive methods. It is more than 99% effective, and less than one percent of women with these implants inserted get pregnant each year.

However, this implant cannot help in preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) . A male latex condom is the most effective way of preventing STIs, including HIV (4).

Insertion Procedure For The Implant

The doctor will ask for a detailed medical history to confirm if you are a suitable candidate to receive the birth control implant. The insertion procedure is pretty quick and does not hurt as the arm is numbed with local anesthesia before the procedure. Once the arm is numb, the doctor uses a special inserter tool to slide the implant under the skin. The procedure does not take more than a few minutes.

You may feel the pinch or sting when you are given the shot that numbs the skin. Once the skin is numb, you do not feel the process of the implant being inserted. Once the effect of local anesthesia wears off, you may feel a mild ache around where the implant was inserted, but the pain subsides quickly.

There might be localized soreness or swelling around the implant, or the surrounding skin may appear bruised for a couple of weeks after the implant is inserted. The doctor will guide you about the steps to take care of the skin around the implant.

Benefits Of A Birth Control Implant

The following are the benefits of a birth control implant (5).

  • They are a safe and convenient way of avoiding unintended pregnancy for up to three years.
  • They are the “get-it-forget-it” mode of birth control. Because it is not user dependent, there is no risk of incorrect usage.
  • They are discreet, and no one can know that you have an implant as it is not visible from the overlying skin.
  • It is zero maintenance — you do not need to do anything about them until they reach their expiration date.
  • The implant also helps in reducing the intensity of period cramps. They also help in reducing menstrual flow. About one in three women stop getting their periods at all after a year of having an implant placed.
  • Some other birth control methods use both estrogen and progesterone to help in birth control. However, some women with certain health conditions cannot use birth control methods that contain estrogen. Nexplanon is estrogen-free, and hence more women can use it.
  • Nexplanon does not affect your fertility. It is reversible, and you can get it removed whenever you want to get pregnant. Moreover, it is possible to get pregnant as soon as you get your implant out of the body.

You can read about other methods of contraception here.

What Are The Drawbacks Of The Implant?

A woman’s vaginal bleeding pattern changes after the contraceptive implant has been inserted. While some women experience frequent or irregular bleeding, about 20% of women have no menstrual bleeding at all. However, it is important to know that it is not harmful to the body. Frequent or prolonged bleeding might get better with time. The doctor might prescribe some medicines for you to help with the bleeding problems (2).

Birth control implants may be effective at avoiding unwanted pregnancy, but they do not protect against STIs. Male latex condoms are most effective at avoiding STIs (6).

What Are The Side Effects Of Birth Control Implants?

Some women complain of the following side effects (2).

  • Headache, dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps and bloating
  • Sore or tender breasts
  • Mood swings
  • Acne
  • Hair loss

The following are less common side effects of birth control implants (7).

The birth control implants are not shown to cause weight gain. Some of these side effects often settle with time as your body gets adjusted to the implant. If you notice these symptoms lasting longer than usual, you must bring them to your doctor’s notice, and he/she might suggest that you shift to some other mode of birth control.

Birth Control Implant Removal

The nurse or doctor will remove the birth control implant after three years or whenever the woman wants to stop using it. The removal is usually fast and easy. If you have had the implant for three years and still do not want to get pregnant, you can have a new implant inserted immediately after removal of your previous implant.

The process of removing the implant is a little longer than inserting it. The doctor will use an anesthetic to numb the skin around the implant. They make a small incision to retrieve the implant. Once the anesthesia begins to work, the process of putting the implant in or retrieving it doesn’t hurt. If you wish another implant to be placed, it can be done in the same appointment when you go for the implant removal (8).

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When can I get my implant site wet?

The implant site can come in contact with water five days after the implantation (9).

2. Does the implant leave a scar?

There may be a small scar where the implant has been inserted (10).

3. Can I drive after getting the implant?

Yes. There may be discomfort around the implant site for a few days, but that usually will not negatively impact abilities such as driving (11).

4. Can all women use the implant?

The birth control implant is considered safe for most women. However, women with some health conditions may need to inform their doctor. These are (12):

  • Acute deep vein thrombosis (blood clot)
  • History of breast cancer five years ago and which has not recurred
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding, which may indicate serious underlying issues
  • Liver problems such as cirrhosis or tumor
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus

Birth control implants are amongst the most efficient contraception methods, preferred by most women because of their zero maintenance and easy-to-use form. The device delivers small quantities of progestin at regular intervals after implantation, thickening the mucus on the cervix and preventing ovulation. Although the implantation may impact your menstrual bleeding, it is not detrimental to your health. The procedure also has a low risk of side effects and a 99% efficacy rate in preventing unintended pregnancy for three years, making it a better option. Consult your doctor to see if you’re a good candidate for birth control implants.

Key Pointers

  • A birth control implant is placed under your skin and is used to prevent pregnancy.
  • These implants are effective contraceptives but may not prevent STDs.
  • A birth control implant will be inserted by a medical professional after considering your medical history.
  • Although usually safe and convenient, a few women may experience irregular periods, nausea, acne, and hair loss after birth control implants.

References:

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Dr. Ng Kai Lyn

(MMed (O&G), MRCOG)
Dr. Ng Kai Lyn is a Singapore-based obstetrician and gynecologist, specializing in urogynecology, minimally invasive surgery, and clinical interest in fertility. She has vast experience managing and treating benign gynecological conditions, including uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometrial polyps, and endometriosis. She is also fellowship trained in urogynecology. She manages pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic floor reconstructive surgery, overactive bladder, urinary incontinence,... more

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. She also holds a certificate in lactation counselling from iNational Health... more

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