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Contraceptive implant

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What is the contraceptive implant?

The implant is a small is a small flexible rod, about the size of a match stick, which is placed under the skin or your upper arm. The implant is a form of contraception that can be used by women who can’t use contraception that contains oestrogen. It is also useful for women who find remembering to take the pill difficult; as once it is fitted it gives you three years of protection from pregnancy.

How does the implant work?

Once the implant is in place it can stay in your body for three years, however if you decide to have it taken out it can be removed at any time. The implant steadily releases the hormone progestogen into your body, which prevents your ovaries from releasing an egg every month. This hormone also thickens the mucus within your womb (cervix) making it difficult for sperm to reach an egg. The womb lining is also thinned so that an egg cannot easily implant itself onto the wall of your womb.

How effective is the contraceptive implant?

The implant is more than 99% effective* at preventing pregnancy however it will not stop you from catching an STI (sexually transmitted infection). You can have the birth control implant fitted at any time during your menstrual cycle.

How long after the implant is inserted can I be sexually active?

To be immediately protected you need to have the injection during the first five days of your cycle. If you have the injection on any other day of your menstrual cycle you’ll need to use additional contraception, such as condoms for seven days afterwards.

If you have recently given birth you can have the implant fitted at any time, to be immediately protected this needs to be on or before day 21 after you have given birth. If you have the implant fitted after day 21 you’ll need to use additional contraception for the next seven days. Also it’s safe to use the implant while you’re breastfeeding.

What are the side effects of the implant?

Similarly to other hormonal methods of contraception the implant can affect your menstrual cycle.

Many women find that their periods:

  • Become irregular
  • Stop completely
  • Last longer than usual

You may also experience other side effects including:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood swings
  • Acne (if you already have acne is may worsen)

However these effects are temporary and should only last for a few months, however if you feel that the disadvantages of the implant outweigh the benefits you can have it removed at any time. Your fertility will very quickly return to how it was before you had the implant fitted, and your regular period cycle should resume.

Where can I get the implant fitted?

You can have an implant fitted at your local sexual health clinic, GP surgery, contraception clinic and young people’s surgery. However make sure to check that they offer this service before you visit them, as they may not offer the service or you may need to book an appointment. Having your implant fitted involves a short procedure where a small incision is made in your arm; your arm is numbed with an anaesthetic injection beforehand so you won’t feel any pain. The implant is inserted under your skin and the small wound is closed with tape, and it’ll heal within a week. After you have had the implant fitted you may feel some tenderness, bruising and swelling on your arm, this is perfectly normal.

How do they take out the implant?

When you have your implant removed your healthcare practitioner will numb the area with a local anaesthetic. This means that you will not feel any pain when the implant is being removed but you may feel slight tugging. It only takes a few minutes for the doctor or nurse to make a tiny cut in the skin and gently pull out the implant. The small wound will be closed and you’ll be given a bandage or plaster to wear.

Can the implant make you gain weight? 

Similarly to other methods of hormonal birth control the implant can make you gain weight, however this is not listed as a side effect. Although you may see changes to your appetite, you may feel hungry more often or not feel full after you have eaten.

What medications affect the implant? 

There are some medicines that can make the implant less effective. Make sure to discuss any medication you are on with your GP or nurse when you have your implant fitted.

Medicines that can affect the implant include:

  • Medicines for HIV, epilepsy and tuberculosis
  • Complementary remedies, such as St John's Wort
  • Some antibiotics, such as rifabutin or rifampicin
If you are talking any of this medicine you will need to use additional contraceptive such as condoms, or decide whether another type of contraception is a better option for you.