Is the hormonal contraceptive Implanon right for you?

We’ve gathered the facts to help you decide whether this birth control method is for you.

25 August 2015
by Chisanga Mukuka

No two women are the same. This is especially true when it comes to birth control – what works for your friend or sister may result in a far from pleasant experience for you. This is one of the reasons that access to a variety of contraceptive methods is important, and in February 2014, the South African Ministry of Health added the “fit-and-forget” hormonal contraception, Implanon, to the local list.

What is Implanon exactly?

Although relatively new to the country, Implanon was introduced internationally in 1998 and is currently available in more than 40 countries worldwide. It's a matchstick-sized plastic rod containing etonogestrel, a synthetic hormone that it releases into the body. Etonogestrel lowers the chances of pregnancy by preventing ovulation, thinning the lining of the uterus so that it's unable to support a fertilised egg, and also thickening the cervical mucous that acts as a barrier for sperm.

“It's very easy to insert and remove; much easier than IUDs (intrauterine devices), for example,” says Cape Town-based obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Suretha Bester. A local anaesthetic is administered before the device is implanted into a layer of fat beneath the skin, just above the elbow or on the inside of the upper arm. The right time for the insertion is usually determined by considering the timing of your menstrual cycle and any contraception you have been on recently.

Implanon begins releasing the hormone immediately, but Dr Bester suggests that condoms are used for the first few weeks just to be safe. The removal of the device is just as simple, and most women begin ovulating again within a few weeks of its removal.

How well does Implanon work?

With a reported effectiveness of 99.9%, Implanon is considered one of the most efficient reversible contraceptives available, and it lasts for three years before a new one is required.

“It’s a good option for women currently on the three-monthly injection, as well as those who forget or don’t like to use daily birth control,” explains Dr Bester. She does however advise that it may not work as well if you are overweight or suffer from high cholesterol or depression.

The side effects of the implant are similar to the contraceptive injection and include headaches, breast tenderness, mood changes and a lower libido. According to Dr Bester, the most inconvenient of these is irregular bleeding, but this is usually resolved within six months.

“In the short time that Implanon has been available in the country, I haven't yet heard of any serious side effects,” says Dr Bester. “It's a very good birth control method and I'd recommend it to women who don’t want to conceive within the next three years and who don’t pose a risk for depression, blood clots or liver disease.”

"I tried Implanon and it has been 100% effective"

Alison (not her real name) shares her experience of Implanon: “I want to have kids in about two to three years’ time and this contraceptive lasts for three years – so Implanon seemed like a great alternative to the Pill. After taking the Pill for a long time and being happy with it, switching to Implanon was a scary step, but my gynaecologist made me very comfortable and the implantation was quick and rather painless. The insertion is a bit painful, but after a few hours it was fine.
"Your period is a bit strange for a few months: some months you don’t get it at all, and others it lasts between five and seven days. I’ve had Implanon for about a year now and I hardly ever have my period.

"It has been 100% effective and I would definitely recommend it. It’s a carefree contraceptive that you basically forget about. My moods also feel a lot more balanced than before, which is always a plus!"

"I tried Implanon and I wouldn’t recommend it"

However, Nicole (not her real name) had a different experience using Implanon: “I was drawn to Implanon because I didn’t want to run the risk of forgetting to take the Pill. When I had it inserted I didn't feel a thing; the area was a bit bruised for about a week but then it healed fully.

"My first period was two weeks' long, followed by another two weeks without bleeding. After this, I had light bleeding that lasted for a month and a half. This was very disconcerting, and after some research I discovered that many women experienced irregular bleeding for months on end. Luckily, my period became more regular.

"I've considered taking it out many times, not only because of the inconvenient constant bleeding but also because my moods have been affected. It works as a contraceptive, but I wouldn't recommend it since everyone's body seems to react differently, and trying it long enough to see if it suits you is quite a commitment.”

Implanon is available at Clicks Clinics

Selected Clicks Clinics offer Implanon insertion and removal as part of their Family Planning services. For a list of the specific Clicks Clinics offering this service, see here for info and to book an appointment. Please note that you will first need a prescription from your doctor for Implanon before a Clinic sister can insert it.

Your Clicks Clinic nursing practitioner can also help you with any other family planning needs, including:

  • Consultations and injections: contraception, cycles, hormonal and fertility
  • Contraceptive and fertility injections administered as per your doctor's prescription (dependent on stock availability)

Visit Clicks Clinics online to book an appointment. Alternatively, call 0860 254 257 or +27 21 460 1009 (outside South Africa). 

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com


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