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  3. Birth control

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Birth Control Implant: Everything You Need to Know Before Trying It

Today, we have a variety of options when it comes to birth control. Some of the options are long-term and semi-permanent, alleviating many stresses and concerns about unwanted pregnancy. A birth control implant might be a great solution for you if you’re tired of worrying about the ins and outs of contraceptive methods.

Wondering what a birth control implant is? Contraceptive implants are a hormonal method of birth control. The implants are flexible plastic rods, comparable in size to a matchstick, that are inserted under the skin of the upper arm by a licensed medical professional.

Birth control implants are a long-term contraceptive method — their intended functional life is three years. The implant works by releasing the hormone progestin into the body. Progestin acts on the body in two ways:

  • Progestin thickens cervical mucus. Sperm can’t move through the thickened mucus to fertilize an egg.
  • Progestin can inhibit ovulation, which makes fertilization impossible.

A physician or nurse does insertion and removal of any birth control implant in the arm. It’s a quick in-office procedure.

At your contraceptive implant insertion appointment, your provider will first evaluate your overall health, including any history of thrombotic disorders, liver diseases, and breast cancer risks. They will discuss your previous methods of birth control and your cycle. The insertion of the implant will be timed appropriately based on your menstrual cycle. The correct timing determines whether or not you need to use an additional method of birth control for the week after insertion. Some patients may need to take a pregnancy test before insertion.

The implant insertion procedure is quick. Your provider will have you lie on your back while they locate the space between your bicep and triceps muscle on your inner upper arm. Some local anesthetic will be injected to numb the area and an applicator is then used to insert the implant just beneath your skin.

Your provider can assess whether the implant is in the appropriate location by feel. If needed, they can also use ultrasound or an X-ray to ensure that the location is correct. A small bandage will be placed over the insertion site. A pressure bandage, which can be removed after 24 hours, is also placed over the site.

Implant removal is also performed by a healthcare professional during an in-office visit. A local anesthetic will again be used. Your provider will make a small incision in your skin at the location of the implant and manually push the insert out of the incision until it can be grasped with forceps and removed.

The incision will be closed and pressure bandaged. The whole procedure typically takes about five minutes.

The birth control implant has many advantages, including:

  • Effectiveness: Contraceptive implants are reported to be 99% effective.
  • Convenience: Implants are a true long-term (three year), “get it and forget it” method of contraception.
  • Privacy: Most women report that they can feel the birth control implant in the arm but that they cannot see it under their skin.
  • Minimal hormones: Contraceptive implants do not include the hormone estrogen. This is important for many people who are not able to use estrogen-related contraceptive methods.
  • Positive menstrual cycle effects: Many users of contraceptive implants report a lighter period. One in three users report no period at all after the implant has been inserted for a year.
  • Future fertility: Birth control implants are not known to have any effect on future fertility. It’s possible to begin trying for pregnancy immediately after implant removal.

As with any medical device or medication, there are always stated disadvantages and side effects. Both are discussed here.

  • Sexually transmitted infection (STI) protection: Contraceptive implants do NOT protect against STIs. While they can prevent undesired pregnancy, additional protection (like condoms) must be used to prevent transmission of STIs.
  • Obesity and effectiveness: Some research suggests that birth control implants are not as effective in people with a body mass index greater than 30.
  • Ectopic pregnancy: Though chance of pregnancy is less than 1 in 100, the risk of ectopic pregnancy (when an egg implants itself outside of the uterus) if fertilization does occur is slightly higher.
  • Side effects: Side effects, if present, vary from person to person. Some of the reported side effects are irregular bleeding during the first 6–12 months after insertion, erythema, hematoma, bruising or infection at the implant site, abdominal or back pain, sore breasts, weight gain, vaginal dryness, mild insulin resistance, decreased sex drive, mood swings or depression, nausea or upset stomach, headaches, dizziness, or an increased risk of non-cancerous ovarian cysts.

No birth control method is perfect. But for someone who wants to spend less time thinking about contraception, a birth control implant can be an excellent choice. Implants are a long-term, extremely effective solution with minimal risk. If you feel an implant could be the right choice for you and your lifestyle, schedule an appointment with your care provider soon.



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