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Implantable Contraception

What Is Implantable Contraception?Birth Control, Implantable Contraception female

Implantable contraception (often called the birth control implant) is a small, flexible plastic tube that doctors put under the skin of the upper arm. The tube releases hormones that can help protect against pregnancy for up to 3 years.

How Does Implantable Contraception Work?

The implanted tube slowly releases low levels of the hormone progestin to prevent ovulation (the release of an egg during the monthly cycle). Without ovulation, pregnancy can't happen because there is no egg for sperm to fertilize.

The released progestin also thickens the mucus around the cervix. This makes it hard for sperm to enter the uterus and reach any eggs that may have been released. The progestin also thins the lining of the uterus so an egg will have a hard time attaching to the wall of the uterus.

How Well Does Implantable Contraception Work to Prevent Pregnancy?

Implantable contraception is a very effective method of birth control. Over the course of 1 year, fewer than 1 out of 100 typical couples using the implant will have an accidental pregnancy. The chances of getting pregnant increase if someone waits longer than 3 years to replace the tube. So it's important to keep a record of when a tube was inserted, and:

  • Get a new contraceptive implant on schedule.
    or
  • Have the old tube removed and switch to another birth control method.

In general, how well each birth control method works depends on a lot of things. These include whether a girl has any health conditions or is taking medicines or herbal supplements that might affect its use.

Does Implantable Contraception Help Prevent STDs?

No. Implantable contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Couples having sex must always use condoms along with the implant to protect against STDs.

Are There Any Side Effects From Implantable Contraception?

Contraceptive implants can sometimes cause such side effects as:

Some of these side effects may go away after a few months.

Sometimes there can be irritation, infection, or scarring where the tube was placed. 

Implantable contraception increases the risk of blood clots. Blood clots can lead to serious problems with the lungs, heart, and brain. Smoking cigarettes while using the implant can increase the risk of blood clots. Don't smoke if you use implantable contraception or another form of hormonal birth control.

Who Can Use Implantable Contraception?

Anyone who wants want long-term protection against pregnancy may be interested in implantable contraception.

Some health conditions make it less effective or more risky to use. The implant is not recommended for those who have had:

  • blood clots
  • liver disease
  • unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • some types of cancer

People with diabetes, migraine headaches, depression, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, gallbladder problems, seizures, kidney disease, or other medical problems should talk with their doctor.

Anyone who thinks she might be pregnant should not have a contraceptive implant inserted.

Where Can I Get Implantable Contraception?

Implantable contraception is only available from a doctor or other medical professional who has been trained to insert it. When the doctor can insert the implant depends on when you had your last period and what type of birth control you currently use.

After numbing the inside of your upper arm, the doctor will use a small needle to insert the tube under the surface. The whole process only takes a few minutes. After the tube is in, don't do any heavy lifting for a few days. You'll have a bandage on for a few days after the procedure.

A health care professional must remove the tube after 3 years. It cannot be left in the arm, even after it is no longer working. The health care professional numbs the area, makes a small cut in the arm, and pulls out the tube. The tube can be removed any time after insertion — there's no need to wait the full 3 years.

How Much Does Implantable Contraception Cost?

The cost of implantable contraception can vary, but it's often free, though there might be a charge for a doctor to place and remove the tube. Typically there are programs to waive that cost for people under the age of 21.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

If you use implantable contraception, call your doctor if you:

  • might be pregnant
  • have a change in the smell or color of your vaginal discharge
  • have unexplained fever or chills
  • have belly or pelvic pain
  • have pain during sex
  • have heavy or long-lasting vaginal bleeding
  • have an implant that comes out or moves
  • have redness, pus, or pain at the area where the tube was placed
  • have yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • have severe headaches
  • have signs of a blood clot, such as lower leg pain, chest pain, trouble breathing, weakness, tingling, trouble speaking, or vision problems

Reviewed by: Lonna P. Gordon, MD
Date Reviewed: 10-01-2022

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