Health benefits, risks and side effects of using the implant

The main side effect of the contraceptive implant is irregular bleeding. It’s a very effective method of contraception and very safe to use – there are almost no medical reasons why you shouldn’t use it and it has very few health risks.

Unlike the combined pill, it’s safe to take if you have a history of blood clots or a family history of thrombosis, migraines with aura, or have a BMI (body mass index) over 35.

It isn’t suitable for people who have:

  • breast cancer or who have a history of breast cancer

  • irregular bleeding, unless you’ve investigated the treatable causes of it

  • reduced liver function – you need your liver to break down the hormones in the implant 

  • a tendency to get keloid scars (scars that are larger and raised above the skin) as a clinician will need to make a small cut to insert the implant

I have the implant, and I love it. I used to have heavy periods with lots of pain and now I get some light spotting for a couple of days every 2-3 months. I never have to think about contraception and it's very low stress. I do sometimes get breast tenderness and I have put on a little bit of weight, but I can’t tell whether that is the implant or not, my weight has always been a bit up and down. I can touch/feel it under my skin, but it's not visible or noticeable unless I'm looking for it.

Health risks of the implant

The contraceptive implant is very safe. There’s very little evidence suggesting any serious health risks at all.

There’s no known evidence of the implant increasing the risk of stroke, heart disease or thrombosis. 

If you have breast cancer

There’s no known evidence that the implant causes an increased risk of breast cancer. 

But it’s not recommended for people who currently have breast cancer. Many breast cancers grow more when there are more hormones present, so methods of contraception that use hormones – such as the contraceptive implant – aren’t recommended for people who with current breast cancer, just in case.

If you’ve had breast cancer in the past, then you might be able to use hormonal contraception. It will depend on the type of contraceptive you’re considering and the type of breast cancer you’ve had.

Side effects of the implant

The main side effect is that, in 75% of people, it will change the pattern of their bleeding. Some people experience other side effects, like changes to their moods or skin. These are important if they happen to you, but no research supports a direct link with the implant yet.

These side effects will not have an effect on your health, but they can be difficult to live with.

Irregular bleeding

The main side effect of the contraceptive implant is irregular bleeding. It’s difficult to predict what your bleeding pattern will be like until you try it, as it’s different for everyone.

Whatever bleeding you experience 3 months after having the implant inserted is likely to be your period pattern for the next 3 years.

Irregular bleeding is one of the main reasons people switch to a different method of contraception.

Your chances of experiencing irregular bleeding

  • 33% of implant users have infrequent bleeding – they bleed or spot fewer than 2 times in 3 months

  • 25% of implant users have a regular bleed

  • 21% of implant users have no bleeding at all

  • 17% of implant users have at least 1 bleed that lasts for more than 10 days in a 3-month time frame 

  • 6% of users have reported frequent bleeding – they bleed or spot more than 4 times in 3 months

How to manage irregular bleeding

You might find the irregular bleeding on the implant difficult to deal with. It can be helpful to wait 3 months after starting to see if irregular bleeding settles down.

During this time, there are some things you can try that can help. Find out what to do if your implant's causing irregular bleeding.

Weight gain, mood changes and acne

While many people report weight gain, mood changes and acne with the implant, there’s no consistent evidence from research to show if this is actually caused by the implant.

This doesn’t mean that hormonal contraception and changes to skin, mood and weight are definitely not related, just that we have no proof that they are. If you’re being affected by changes then you could consider switching to a different method of contraception.

Many things in life can affect weight, mood and skin. Try keeping a record to understand if there’s any link between any side effects you have and anything else in your life.

A few months after my first implant in 2015, I noticed I lost a lot of weight. I went down at least 1 dress size, maybe 2. I hadn’t altered my eating habits much, so I’m quite sure it was the implant. I also noticed I was really hungry but felt full faster. I’m planning on having my third implant inserted in a few months, I didn’t notice a weight change when I had my second implant inserted in 2018.

Weight gain was noticeable since getting the implant – no change in eating habits or exercise. Consistently gained weight and found it more difficult to lose weight. Have been on programmes to help.

You’re experiencing side effects, what can you do? 

Everyone experiences different types of the pill differently. If you find one type doesn’t suit you, keep a record of why, and how you feel on it. Then try a different brand to see if it’s any better.

First of all, we suggest: 

  • try it for 3 months, because side effects do sometimes settle down 

  • if it carries on after 3 months, discuss your symptoms with your health professional 

  • if you get side effects during your pill free week, taking it continuously can help

Sometimes it can be hard to know if any symptoms you have are because of your contraception, or something else.  

We also recommend that you: 

  • keep a record of any side effects to see if there are other causes (for example, have new working hours changed your eating habits and affected your weight? Or could stress be affecting your mood?

  • make an appointment to talk about symptoms and other contraception options with your health professional 

  • stop if you have unpleasant side effects over a longer period of time and choose an alternative method of contraception

Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error before finding the right method of contraception for you. What’s right for you may also change over time. So just because a particular pill type or contraceptive method suited you in the past, doesn’t mean it will suit you now.

Everything you wanted to know about sexual health and wellbeing - your questions answered by our expert team.