About Implantable Contraception
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About Implantable Contraception

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD

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 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).

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 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
  • depression

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 implantable contraception.

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.

Girls who have 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 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
Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: June 2018