What is the contraceptive implant?
Reviewed by our clinical team
Many women find the contraceptive implant a convenient and highly effective form of contraception. It is a small, flexible rod which is inserted under the skin in the upper arm, where it releases hormones and can protect against pregnancy for up to three years. It's over 99% effective.
How does the contraceptive implant work?
The implant steadily releases the hormone progesterone into your bloodstream. It is similar to the progesterone produced naturally by your body, and prevents pregnancy by:
- stopping your ovaries releasing an egg every month
- thinning the lining of the womb making it difficult for an egg to implant
- thickening the mucus from the cervix making it difficult for sperm to pass through
Why choose the contraceptive implant?
The implant can be very useful for women who forget to take the pill at the same time every day. Once the implant is inserted, you probably won’t have to think about contraception again for three years. Good news for women who worry about missing pills.
You can have the implant taken out at any time, and your fertility will return to normal immediately.
Like the contraceptive pill, the implant is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. But, unlike the pill, the implant does not rely on correct use and our all-too-fallible memory to achieve that level of efficacy.
Are there any disadvantages of the implant?
The implant will probably affect your periods, either by stopping them altogether, or by making them lighter and shorter, or longer, heavier or possible irregular. Some women may have spotting (bleeding between periods). While the prospect of never having periods at all may be a draw for some women, others may find that the inconvenience of spotting or heavy periods outweighs the benefits of the implant.
Side effects of the contraceptive implant
As with any medicine, some people experience other side effects while using the implant. These can include:
- breast tenderness
- changes in mood
- loss of sex drive
There is also a very small chance that your arm may become infected shortly after the implant has been inserted, but this is very rare.
Does the contraceptive implant protect against STIs?
The implant will not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You are at risk of contracting an STI if you have multiple partners or have had a new partner recently. Condoms are the most effective method of reducing the chances of getting STIs.
Will the contraceptive implant hurt?
The doctor or nurse who inserts the implant will give you a local anaesthetic to numb part of your arm, so it shouldn’t hurt at all. The implant is around the size of a hair grip, and takes just a few minutes to put in. It feels a bit like having an injection. You will be shown how to check that the implant is in place by feeling with your fingers.
The area may be a little tender for a day or two, with slight bruising and swelling. Your doctor or nurse will put on a dressing to protect it, and you should keep this on for a few days.
Will there be a lump in my arm?
Once the area has healed, you shouldn’t be able to see the implant at all, although you will be able to feel a slight bump if you press in the right place.
You won’t need to worry about knocking the implant, as it won’t break or move around your arm, and you should be able to continue with all your normal activities.
Where can I get the implant?
The implant has to be inserted by a trained doctor or nurse. You can get it fitted in most GP surgeries, GUM clinics and contraception clinics.
What are the alternatives to the implant?
If the implant isn’t for you, there are plenty of other contraceptives which are also effective at preventing pregnancy. These include:
- the contraceptive pill
- the injection
- the IUS
- the IUD (the coil)
- the patch
- the vaginal ring
- male condoms
- female condoms
The most popular method of long-term contraception in the UK is the contraceptive pill. There are many different forms of contraceptive pill, including the combined pill, the mini pill and the low dose pill.