Implanon contraceptive implant examined

Behind the Headlines

Wednesday January 5 2011

The device has been used by 1.4 million women

“Hundreds of women have become pregnant after a long-term contraceptive implant failed,” the Daily Mail has reported. The newspaper said that failures of the hormonal implant have led to nearly 600 reported pregnancies among users.

The implant has been used by around 1.4 million women since it was introduced in 1999. In its 11 years of use, medicine regulators have recorded 584 pregnancies among users. These appear to be due to incorrect insertion rather than failure of the implant itself.

The Department of Health has advised that there is no cause for concern. No form of contraceptive is 100% effective, and these figures suggest that the hormone-filled implants are still one of the most effective methods. Unintended pregnancies are rare with the implant and for every 1,000 women using it, less than one will get pregnant over a three-year period. If you have any questions or concerns, ask your GP for further information.

 

Why is Implanon in the news?

A small number of women have recently launched legal action after they received the contraceptive implant but still fell pregnant. Newspapers have also questioned the contraceptive’s effectiveness.

The news stories appear to be based on 584 official reports of pregnancies among implant users since they were introduced in 1999. In this time, approximately 1.4 million women have used the implant. At present, 800,000 women are estimated to be using it. The small number of pregnancies seen with Implanon appear to be due to incorrect insertion rather than failure of the implant itself.

 

I have a contraceptive implant. What should I do?

The Department of Health has advised that there is no need for concern. Implanon still has a good record of safety and effectiveness, and there is no need for existing users to have their implant removed or replaced ahead of its usual replacement time. If you have any questions or concerns, ask your GP for further information.

While news reports have suggested a high risk of pregnancy among Implanon users, it is still considered to be over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. For every 1,000 women using the implant, fewer than one will get pregnant over three years. Additionally, no form of contraceptive is 100% effective.

If you are in any way concerned about your implant or are experiencing any side effects like irregular bleeding, then please speak with the health professional who fitted the implant, your GP or a contraceptive clinic for further advice about your individual circumstances. In the meantime if you are in any doubt about the presence of your implant then you should use a condom for contraceptive cover.

 

How do contraceptive implants work?

Contraceptive implants work in a similar way to the pill, using hormones to control the menstrual cycle. The implant slowly releases these hormones over a number of years to provide long-term contraception that is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

The implant is inserted under the skin of the upper arm and can stay there for up to three years, after which it stops being effective and needs to be removed. The implant can also be removed before this time if requested or if it causes side effects.

 

What will happen now?

As of October 2010, Implanon was discontinued and replaced by Nexplanon, a newer version of the implant designed to reduce the risk of insertion errors. Nexplanon implants also contain a substance called barium, which allows them to be easily located using X-rays and CT scans.

However, this does not mean that Implanon has been withdrawn. Rather, production has now stopped in favour of Nexplanon. Current stocks of Implanon are still suitable for use and can be prescribed until they run out.

As with all drugs and medicines, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will continue to monitor the safety and effectiveness of both Implanon and Nexplanon. If you have experienced pregnancy or side effects while using a contraceptive implant, report it to your GP or the MHRA through their Yellow Card safety scheme.

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Edited by NHS Choices