Implantable contraception (often called the birth control implant)
is a small, flexible plastic tube that doctors insert just under the skin of a girl's
upper arm. The tube slowly 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). If a girl doesn't ovulate,
she cannot become pregnant because there is no egg to be fertilized.
The released progestin also thickens the mucus around the cervix.
This helps prevent sperm from entering the uterus. The progestin also thins the lining
of the uterus so that if the egg is fertilized, it may be less likely to attach to
the wall of the uterus.
How Well Does Implantable Contraception Work?
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 chance of getting pregnant will increase if a girl 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 method of birth control.
In general, how well each birth control
method works depends on a lot of things. These include whether a person has any health
conditions or is taking any medicines or herbal supplements that might interfere with
its use (for example, some antibiotics or an herb like St. John's wort can affect
how well implantable contraception works).
Are There Any Problems With Implantable Contraception?
Women who get contraceptive implants might notice such side effects as:
irregular or no menstrual periods
heavier or lighter periods
spotting between periods
weight gain, headaches, acne, and breast tenderness
Some of these side effects may improve with time.
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. So young women who use this type
of birth control should not smoke.
Who Is Implantable Contraception Right for?
Young women who want long-term protection against pregnancy may be interested in
Not all women can — or should — use the implant. In some cases, health
conditions make it less effective or more risky to use. For example, the implant is
not recommended for women who have had blood clots, liver disease, unexplained vaginal
bleeding, or some types of cancer.
Anyone who thinks she might be pregnant should not have a contraceptive implant
Where Is Implantable Contraception Available?
Implantable contraception is only available from a doctor or other medical professional
who has been trained in how to insert it. When the doctor can insert the implant depends
on when a girl had her last period and what type of birth control she currently uses.
After numbing the inside of the upper arm, the doctor will use a small needle to
insert the tube just under the surface. The whole process only takes a few minutes.
After the tube is put in, a girl shouldn't do any heavy lifting for a few days. She
will 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 a girl's arm, even after it is no longer working. The area is numbed, then
a small cut in the arm is made and the health care professional 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 varies widely based on location and insurance
coverage. It can range from $0 to more than $1,000. There also may be a charge for
a doctor to remove the tube.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Someone using implantable contraception should call the doctor if she:
might be pregnant
has a change in the smell or color of her vaginal discharge
has unexplained fever or chills
has belly or pelvic pain
has pain during sex
has heavy or long-lasting vaginal bleeding
has an implant that comes out or moves
has redness, pus, or pain at the area where the tube was placed
has yellowing of the skin or eyes
has severe headaches
has signs of a blood clot, such as lower leg pain, chest pain, trouble breathing,
weakness, tingling, trouble speaking, or vision problems