A Contraceptive Implant: What Is It and How Does It Work?
First there were oral contraceptives, then came intrauterine devices, and finally the contraceptive implant. The most contemporary birth control option is the contraceptive implant, a small piece of flexible plastic that is inserted under the skin of the inner, upper arm. The implant itself is only 4 centimeters long, roughly the size of a matchstick. Once inserted, the implant is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy and offers 3 years of continuous birth control. The implant is ideal for women who do not plan on getting pregnant in the near future, or those who may not remember to take an oral contraceptive consistently.
The implant works by constantly releasing the hormone progestin into the body. Progestin is a hormone present in oral contraceptives. The steady release of progestin works to prevent the egg from reaching the ovaries and thus keeps sperm from reaching the egg. The implant is one of the most effective forms of birth control on the market. If implantation occurs within the first 5 days of your menstrual cycle, the implant is immediately effective. Implants that are inserted at any other point in the menstrual cycle require 7 days to take effect. Individuals in these cases are encouraged to use secondary contraceptive methods, such as condoms, during the 7 days following insertion.
The contraceptive implant is known as either Nexplanon or Implanon, depending on where you live. The procedure can only be performed by a healthcare professional. Once you have found a qualified healthcare provider, you will need to schedule an appointment for a consultation. Your provider may be able to perform the implantation during your initial visit, but it is possible that you will be asked to schedule a follow up appointment. The insertion is considered a minor surgical procedure. Implantation requires the administration of a local anesthetic and a small incision.
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Prior to the anesthetic, your provider will examine your arm to determine the ideal placement. Next they measure and mark the area with marker. Your healthcare provider will then administer the local anesthetic. This is typically the only painful part of the implantation procedure. Local anesthetic is injected into the area surrounding the implant site. A brief burning or stinging sensation during the injection is common but typically fades within seconds. Your provider will ensure that the local anesthetic has taken effect. Once the area is entirely numb, your provider will make a small incision at the implant site. The implant itself is contained within a disposable applicator which your provider will gently slide under the skin to deposit the implant.
After the implant has been inserted, the provider will quickly examine the placement, to ensure that the implant is where it should be. You will then have a suture bandage placed over the incision site. Due to the minuscule incision, the implantation procedure does not require stitches. In addition to the butterfly closure, your provider will apply a compression bandage over a sterile gauze dressing. You are instructed to wear the pressure bandage for at least 5 days following implantation.
Once the procedure has been completed, you should be able to drive yourself home. In addition to swelling and bruising at the insertion site, some pain and discomfort should be expected in the days following implantation. Common side effects include redness, pain and irritation at the insertion site. These issues should resolve within a couple of days. If pain or discomfort persists, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Be sure to contact your healthcare provider if you develop a fever, excessive swelling and redness, or your symptoms do not improve. Although rare, these symptoms could indicate an infection.
The most common side effect reported is an altered menstrual cycle, especially in the first weeks as your body adjusts to the implant. Some women report having longer, heavier periods since getting the implant. Others say they have lighter, shorter periods. Some women stop bleeding entirely, or experience infrequent periods with light spotting between cycles. Aside from menstrual cycle changes, common side effects include possible weight gain, mood swings, acne and frequent headaches. The manifestation and severity of side effects varies by individual. Studies indicate that approximately 1 out of every 10 women decide to have the implant removed due to adverse side effects. As with the insertion procedure, removal of the implant must be performed by a healthcare professional.
Overall, the implant is a reliable and convenient birth control method. Like any birth control, the implant comes with the risk of side effects. The potential side effects are generally mild, however, and for many women they are outweighed by the benefits. Three years of hassle-free pregnancy protection provides the security and convenience that other methods lack. If you are interested in learning more about the implant, speak with your doctor to determine which option is best for you.