Contraceptive Implant - Pros and cons and side-effects

What are the advantages of using a contraceptive implant?

  • You do not have to remember to take a pill every day.
  • It can be used by women who cannot take oestrogen.
  • You can use it for three years without having to think about contraception.
  • It does not interfere with having sex (intercourse).
  • It will still work if you experience diarrhoea and being sick (vomiting).
  • It can be used if you are breast-feeding.
  • You can use it if you smoke, or if you are overweight.
  • Period pain is usually reduced and periods are usually lighter.
  • If you have endometriosis then the contraceptive implant may improve your symptoms.
  • It may help to protect against pelvic infection, as it makes the mucous plug in the neck of the womb (cervix) thicken.
  • As soon as it is taken out, you are fertile again.

What are the disadvantages of using a contraceptive implant?

  • Insertion and removal with local anaesthetic are required.
  • The release of progestogen will usually cause changes to the pattern of periods.
  • Periods usually become, and remain, irregular:
    • In some women periods can be heavier and/or more frequent.
    • In some women periods become infrequent and light, or even stop altogether.
    • One in five women with the implant have no bleeding.
  • Some women experience side-effects (see below).

If you do develop irregular bleeding or bleeding after having sex after having the implant inserted, you should inform your doctor. Irregular bleeding can occasionally be due to another reason - for example, an infection which may need to be treated.

What are the side-effects with a contraceptive implant?

Most side-effects caused by the contraceptive implant occur when you first start using the implant. They are not usually severe.

The most common side-effects are:

  • Changes in your periods (see below).
  • Fluid retention and breast tenderness.
  • Acne: your skin may temporarily worsen, although it can also improve.
  • Itching or bruising after implant insertion.

The contraceptive implant does not cause 'thinning' of your bones (osteoporosis). It does not usually cause altered sex drive (libido), but some women who experienced other side-effects also say that their sex drive was reduced.

Other symptoms including mood swings or low mood, weight gain, and breast tenderness are commonly described. However, the evidence that they are caused by the contraceptive implant is very unclear, as they seem to occur equally commonly in women using non-hormonal methods of contraception.

Are there any risks from using the contraceptive implant?

Women who use hormonal contraception appear to have a small increase in long-term risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who don’t use hormonal contraception. It is not known if this is also true of the contraceptive implant.

Apart from bruising and soreness it is possible, although very unusual, to get a localised infection in your arm when the implant is put in. Insertion of the implant can leave a small scar.

It is important to be able to feel the implant under the skin after insertion. There is a small risk of insertion error in which the implant is not actually inserted by the procedure.

What will happen to my periods if I use the contraceptive implant?

Most women experience changes in their periods with a contraceptive implant.

  • Most commonly, the periods will be lighter and less regular.
  • Some women find that their periods stop altogether with the implant.
  • A few women have longer, irregular periods, which can be heavy.
  • Some women experience mood swings at first, which can be rather like PMS.

If you have prolonged bleeding with the contraceptive implant your doctor or nurse can prescribe extra hormone tablets to suppress the bleeding until it settles by itself. This way you keep the contraceptive cover, and the periods will usually settle down over time. This usually happens within three months of having the implant inserted.

Will the contraceptive implant make me gain weight?

There is no strong evidence that the contraceptive implant makes women put on weight. Progesterone can do this, but more so when taken in higher doses than you receive from the contraceptive implant. It can also cause fluid retention initially - which will make your weight go up - but this is usually due to fluid rather than fat.

However, many women do feel that the contraceptive implant has made them gain weight. If this happens to you then this weight gain is likely to reverse when you stop using the implant.

The early side-effects of the contraceptive implant are rather like the early symptoms of pregnancy. This is not surprising, since the early symptoms of pregnancy are caused by progesterone. It is not unusual for women to feel they may be pregnant when they first have the implant. A pregnancy test will give you an accurate answer.

What if I was pregnant when the implant was put in?

The contraceptive implant should not be put in when you are pregnant but if this accidentally happens (because you didn't realise), the implant will not do you or your baby any harm. The amount of hormone released from the implant is relatively small compared to the hormonal changes of pregnancy.

Will the contraceptive implant protect me against sexually transmitted infections?

The contraceptive implant will not protect you against sexually transmitted infections. It is highly advisable to use condoms for protection unless you are in a one-partner (monogamous) relationship and are certain that neither one of you carries a sexually transmitted infection.

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Author:
Dr Mary Lowth
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Jacqueline Payne
Document ID:
4575 (v42)
Last Checked:
22 August 2017
Next Review:
05 July 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.