Birth Control Implant Pros, Cons, and Side Effects

Published September 1, 2018
Gynecology consultation about birth control implant

Birth control implants are a hormone releasing, long-term contraception option for women. Even though birth control implants are over 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, there are many pros and cons, so it's important to consider these to determine if it's right for you.

What to Expect at the Doctor's Office

The birth control implant itself is a small, thin, flexible rod and just under two inches in length. The doctor injects a local anesthetic and inserts the implant (with a special applicator) under the skin on the inner side of your upper arm. It is a painless and relatively quick procedure. You won't be able to see the implant but you should be able to feel it under your skin.

How It Works

Birth Control Implant

The implant provides three years of continuous birth control. It releases a low, steady dose of a progestin hormone that will suppress ovulation, thicken cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering the uterus, and thin the uterine lining (endometrium) to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.

Side Effects

It is not unusual for women to experience side effects from the birth control implants. They are rarely serious and usually go away in a few months. Women may experience:

  • Irregular bleeding (the most common side effect)
  • Changes in your periods: heavier, lighter or completely stopping (amenorrhea)
  • Painful periods (dysmenorrhea)
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Depressed mood
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Decrease in sex drive
  • Sore breasts
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Acne
  • Vaginitis (vaginal inflammation)

Benefits of Using the Birth Control Implant

Using the birth control implant has a number of benefits such as:

  • It is a highly effective form of birth control (over 99 percent).
  • Birth control is covered for three years.
  • The implant can be removed sooner than three years if there's a change in plans for pregnancy.
  • The implant contains no estrogen, so it's an option for women who can't use estrogen-based forms of birth control.
  • You are able to breastfeed while on the implant.
  • Fertility returns quickly upon removal of implant.
  • You do not need to remember to take a pill daily.
  • No more interrupting sex to deal with contraception.
  • Your periods may be lighter.

Disadvantages of Using the Birth Control Implant

The birth control implant also has some disadvantages that should be taken into consideration when choosing a birth control method such as:

  • It does not offer protection against sexually transmitted infections.
  • The implant must be removed after three years and replaced with a new one. Or at that time, you may decide you want to change to a different form of birth control if still wanting to prevent pregnancy.
  • If not covered by insurance, the implant may be expensive.
  • If you have a history of blood clots, breast cancer, heart attack or stroke, this form of birth control will not be recommended for you.
  • It is rare, but the implant may migrate away from where it was originally inserted. This makes it difficult for the doctor to find the implant when it's time for it to be removed.

Possible Risks

There are possible serious risks with the implants that, while rare, you should be aware of. Some are hormone-related while others are not. These risks include:

Ectopic Pregnancy

There is a slightly higher chance of having an ectopic pregnancy if you get pregnant while on the birth control implant than for women who are not on birth control.

Ovarian Cysts

Ovarian cysts may develop. Usually, they resolve on their own, but if the cysts grow large, they may need to be surgically removed.

Blood Clots

The chance of getting blood clots increases with the implant, especially if there are other risk factors such as smoking. Blood clots are life threatening and can be found in the lungs, legs, brain, and heart.

Bent or Broken Implant

An implant may bend or break and removal will be necessary. If this happens, contact your doctor immediately.

Other Concerns

High blood pressure, gallbladder problems, and liver tumors (malignant and benign) can also be connected to birth control that contains hormones.

When to See a Doctor

There are some serious (but rare) side effects that can happen. You should see your doctor if you have:

  • Severe chest pain
  • Lower leg pain that won't subside
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abnormally heavy or prolonged bleeding
  • Symptoms of an allergic reaction such as a swollen face or hives
  • Severe headache
  • A breast lump
  • Redness or pain at the incision site
  • If your periods stop
  • Yellow eyes and/or skin

Removal of Implant

The implant is removed after three years. The procedure for the removal of the implant is performed at the doctor's office. A local anesthetic will be injected into your arm and a small incision will be made at the area of the implant. The doctor will then push the implant towards the skin surface and remove the implant with forceps, then the incision will be closed, and a bandage applied. A new birth control implant can be inserted immediately if you choose. If you opt not to get a new implant, another form of birth control will be necessary in order to prevent pregnancy.

Do Your Research

You should ask questions, weigh your options, and do your research to see if the birth control implant is right for you. While it's a highly effective and convenient form of birth control, there are possible risks to be aware of as well.

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Birth Control Implant Pros, Cons, and Side Effects