EYNTK about side effects of the contraceptive implant

woman holding her arm up with doctor's hands about to insert contraceptive implant
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With so many different contraception options available, it can be difficult to know what will suit you – and what the side effects might be. But for those with a hectic lifestyle the most popular option – the contraceptive Pill – could be a little too demanding.

So it’s fair enough that you’d consider the implant (Nexplanon). According to the NHS, the contraception offers more than 99% protection from pregnancy, without you having to remember a thing. When you have it fitted, a small flexible plastic rod is put under the skin in the upper arm by a doctor or nurse. It works by slowly releasing progestogen (a synthetic medication that produces similar effects to the hormone progesterone) into the bloodstream to prevent ovulation.

Of course, all of this is enough to make even the calmest person start Googling frantically. But there’s no need to worry; many won't experience any negative side effects.

Why people get the contraceptive implant

Other than it being highly effective, it prevents pregnancy for up to three years, and is a great option for women who find it difficult to stay on top of taking the pill at the same time every day. Plus, it can be useful for those who can't use contraception that includes oestrogen (such as women who are over 35 and smoke, are overweight or have issues with blood circulation).

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So essentially, the implant gives all of the protection from pregnancy that you get from the pill, without you needing to do anything after its been inserted. Sound perfect for you? As with any regular medication, it’s important to be aware of the side effects before you commit (though you can have it removed any time, and your natural fertility will return quickly). While everyone is different, here's what you might expect:

Possible side effects of the contraceptive implant

Physical effects

What can happen: The first few months of the implant being fitted are likely to be the most difficult. Dr Geetha Venkat, Director at the Harley Street Fertility Clinic tells Cosmopolitan UK: "You could experience things like headaches, nausea, breast tenderness and mood swings."

When you should get it checked out: It’s likely these effects will begin to settle as your body becomes used to the changes. Unless you have reason to be concerned, give it some time to settle and for your body to get used to the changes. If you're still worried after three months, go see your doctor.

Weight gain

What can happen: Other physical effects can include weight gain, although it’s likely that you’ll be weighed before having the implant fitted. If your doctor is worried about how gaining weight could affect your health, he or she may give alternative options.

When you should get it checked out: You know your own body better than anyone else, so this is really up to you. If you feel like your weight gain is unusual, or doesn't appear to be slowing, book an appointment with your GP.

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Skin problems

What can happen: Those with sensitive skin may notice some changes. Dr Venakt says: "Occasionally the area of skin where the implant has been fitted can become infected and if this happens, you may need antibiotics."

She also notes: "For some people, they may start to get acne and if this is something they already deal with, it could get worse."

When you should get it checked out: "Do check with your doctor if any redness or irritation occurs that you are worried about," explains Dr Venkat. Bruising and tenderness following the initial fitting is normal, but if this continues for weeks be sure to book in a follow-up appointment. Similarly, if you're experiencing acne flare-ups, go see someone.

Mental health

What can happen: It’s important for those considering changing contraception to know that the implant can also have an impact on your mental health. Dr Venkat says: "Effects can occasionally include depression."

When you should get it checked out: If your general wellbeing is affected, this is something you should talk to someone about Dr Venkat suggests: "Note any changes in your mood and if you think there is a link, check with your doctor."

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Menstrual cycle changes

What can happen: As with any contraception, it’s likely to affect your menstrual cycle, particularly in the beginning. "When you are using the implant, it could be that your periods become irregular or they actually stop altogether," Dr Venkat explains. "You may also find you experience spotting between your periods, more extreme period pains when you do have a period and the time between your periods can change."

When you should get it checked out: Generally, changes in your cycle when you switch contraception is nothing to worry about as it's super normal. Things should start to settle back into a pattern after a few months, but if you're bleeding constantly or suffering from extreme period pains go see a doctor.

Existing medication

What can happen: Those who already have medical prescriptions or take certain supplements may find that the implant isn't working for them. "Some medicines, including some antibiotics, drugs for epilepsy and complementary remedies like St John's Wort, can make the implant less effective," says Dr Venkat.

When you should get it out: Your doctor should check what medication you're on before you get it fitted, but if not be sure to give them a list of everything you take regularly - even supplements. If you are given an antibiotic prescription, ask whether it'll affect the contraception.

To recap, according to Dr Venkat, the side effects you may experience include:

Physical effects like headaches, nausea, and breast tenderness

  • Weight gain

  • Skin problems

  • Changes in mood

  • Menstrual cycle changes

  • Other medicines making it less effective

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Of course, all of this is enough to make even the calmest person start Googling frantically. But there’s no need to worry; many won't experience any negative side effects. And although it’s designed to last for three years, as mentioned, the implant can be removed if necessary. So if you do experience anything unpleasant as a result of the medication, or even just change your mind about the contraception, go back to your doctor who will take it out within a matter of minutes.

Finally, Dr Venkat notes: "The implant does help to prevent pregnancy, but it is worth saying that it doesn't protect women against sexually transmitted infections therefore you will need to use additional contraception (such as condoms) to ensure you are safe when having sex."

If you can't feel the implant, it feels like it's changed shape, you have any pain, or you do become pregnant, you need to talk to a medical professional. If any of these problems do occur, we do strongly suggest you speak to your GP or dial 111 and don’t leave it to get worse.

For more information, visit this NHS web page on the contraceptive implant.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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