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Birth Control Implants

Birth control implants are devices that are inserted under women's skin. They release a hormone that prevents pregnancy.

Two similar implants available in the U.S. are Implanon and Nexplanon. However Implanon is gradually being replaced by Nexplanon.

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Each implant is a plastic rod about the size of a matchstick. The rods contain a form of the hormone progesterone called etonogestrel.

What to Expect at the Doctor's Office

After numbing your skin, a health care provider inserts the rod under the skin of your upper arm, using a device that pushes the rod through a needle.

The insertion process may take less than a minute. Afterward, you should be able to feel but not see the implant under your skin.

You can use a birth control implant for up to three years. Then it needs to be replaced.

Removing it is generally easy. It may take only a few minutes. Your health care provider numbs your skin and makes a tiny incision near the tip of the implant, then pulls it out.

Implanon vs. Nexplanon

Implanon is being phased out by the manufacturer. In December 2012 the maker stopped the distribution of Implanon. When the supply runs out, only Nexplanon -- the new-generation implant -- will be available.

The insertion device for Nexplanon is simplified and avoids deep placement of the implant.

Also, the Nexplanon rod was designed to be located using X-rays. That way your doctor can check to see if it's been placed correctly under your skin.

Benefits of Birth Control Implants

As with any type of birth control method, implants have both benefits and drawbacks.

Some benefits:

Effective. Fewer than one in 1,000 women using an implant will become pregnant each year.

Easy to use. Unlike some other birth control options -- such as condoms, patches, shots, rings, and pills -- the implant does not rely on you to work effectively. You don't have to worry about using it incorrectly or remembering to replace or take frequently.

Fast reversal. You will be able to get pregnant immediately after the implant is removed, which is a benefit if you want to become pregnant.

Less painful periods. In studies of women using implants, painful periods were significantly improved.

Drawbacks of Birth Control Implants

Potential drawbacks of birth control implants include:

Cost. You may have to pay about $600 or more for an exam and the implant, and $100 or more to have it removed.

Lack of STD prevention. Unlike some other forms of birth control, such as condoms, birth control implants won't prevent HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

Risks of Birth Control Implants

Side effects. Possible side effects include problems from the  insertion procedure, including:

  • Pain
  • Bruising or swelling
  • Redness
  • Infection
  • Scarring

Also, the health care provider may not insert the device in the proper spot. For example, it may be placed too deeply under the skin. This can lead to numbness and difficulty later on in removing the implant. The newer insertion device used with Nexplanon lowers this risk.

Other possible side effects include:

  • Irregular menstrual bleeding
  • Depression and other mood changes
  • Weight gain
  • Abdominal pain or nausea
  • Acne
  • Breast pain, back pain, or headache
  • Vaginitis
  • Dizziness

Health concerns that make implants unacceptable. Some women shouldn't use birth control implants, including women who may already be pregnant and those with:

  • Sensitivity to any component of the implant
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding with an undiagnosed cause
  • History of breast cancer or evidence of current breast cancer
  • Liver disease or liver tumors
  • History of blood clots

Use with caution if you have:

  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Seizure disorder
  • History of depression

Also, birth control implant studies have not included obese women, so the implants may not be as effective if you are obese.

Certain medications can lessen the effectiveness of birth control implants. Talk to your doctor to learn more.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Trina Pagano, MD on February 20, 2013

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