health articles

Contraceptive Implants

Virtually Healthcare is an innovative GP practice providing comprehensive contraceptive care. The service is easily accessible online, on the phone, or in person, with all appointments free of charge on the NHS.

What is a contraceptive implant?

The contraceptive implant is a type of long-lasting, reversible hormonal contraception for women. The implant is a small, flexible rod that gradually releases progesterone, ensuring contraception for three years.

The doctor inserts the device tubes in the skin of the upper arm under local anaesthetic. The implant is one of the most effective methods of contraception available. You don’t need to remember to take tablets or use anything; the implant is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Your doctor can remove the device if you decide you want to try for a baby, with fertility usually returning swiftly[1].


Contraceptive care at Virtually Healthcare

The specialist family planning GPs at Virtually Healthcare provide a comprehensive range of free contraceptive services. They will listen to your lifestyle, preferences, and any pregnancy plans before suggesting your options. These could include the contraceptive implant and other hormonal methods, including the pill, mini-pill, contraceptive injections or patches. They can also recommend barrier methods such as condoms and caps or insert coils or intrauterine systems like the Mirena device.

How do contraceptive implants work?

The contraceptive implant releases a steady stream of progestogen, a synthetic version of the natural female hormone progesterone.

The hormone is absorbed into the bloodstream and acts in three ways to prevent pregnancy: It prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg, thickens the mucous in the cervix so that it’s more difficult for the sperm to reach the egg, and thins the lining of the womb so that a fertilised egg is less likely to implant[1].


The Virtually Healthcare difference

Virtually Healthcare is a cutting-edge GP practice, providing expert healthcare in the comfort and privacy of your home. The Virtually Healthcare service is designed to fit in with modern lives. You can access consultations easily with virtual appointments available seven days a week.

The team includes more than 40 clinicians working together to investigate and treat disease and help you optimise your health and wellbeing. As well as highly-skilled GPs, the team includes experienced family planning and sexual health specialists and practice nurses to offer a comprehensive primary care service.

During the pandemic, many patients are finding it more challenging to access healthcare. Virtually Healthcare provides quick access video or telephone appointments, with consultations available the same day if you contact us before 3 pm. Our clinicians can provide professional assessment and advice, arrange investigations, prescribe treatment or arrange for a face-to-face review.

At Virtually Healthcare, we focus on you. Our clinicians take a holistic approach to care. Whether you want an easy, convenient way to get contraception or a discreet testing service for STIs, our dedicated team can provide expert advice and treatment.

What are the pros and cons of the contraceptive implant?

The advantages

  • The implant lasts for three years, providing 99% protection from pregnancy.
  • The implant works continuously so that sex can be spontaneous and uninterrupted.
  • You don’t need to remember to take tablets or use a device during sex.
  • The implant can make your periods lighter, less painful and more regular.
  • Your fertility should swiftly return to normal when the doctor removes the implant.
  • The implant is small and discreet in appearance.
  • Unlike the pill, the implant stays effective if you are sick or have diarrhoea.
  • It is safe to use the implant when breastfeeding[1].


Does the contraceptive implant cause weight gain?

Some women notice some weight gain when using the implant. Researchers found that around 73.9% of women experienced weight gain in a recent study, with a median change of approximately 3.2 kg or 7 pounds over 27 months. The researchers suggested that a woman’s genetic make-up could play a role in this implant-linked effect[1].


The disadvantages

  • The implant doesn’t protect against STIs; you will need to use a barrier method for STI protection.
  • The implant is discreet but can be seen and felt under the skin of the upper arm.
  • You will need a minor procedure to insert the implant.
  • When the doctor first inserts the implant, you may experience bruising, tenderness and a little swelling around the device.
  • You may develop spots or acne
  • Many women get side effects, including mood swings, headaches, nausea, and breast tenderness. These are usually temporary and tend to settle after the first few months.
  • The implant can affect your periods. You may have irregular bleeding initially, this usually settles, and many women have light bleeding or no periods when using the implant.
  • Some medications can affect the effectiveness of the implant. Talk to your GP or pharmacist if you use regular medication. It’s also important to check if you use herbal or over-the-counter drugs; treatments such as St John’s Wort can affect the implants efficacy[1].


How do you insert the implant?

The doctor inserts the matchstick-size implant under local anaesthetic. They numb the skin on the inside of your upper arm, then inject the implant into the area. The procedure is quick and straightforward; it only takes a few minutes and feels like having an injection. You will not need any stitches[1].


Hot topics in contraceptive care

How long can I use contraceptive implants?

If you’re healthy, a non-smoker, and you have no medical reasons to prevent implant use, you can use the contraceptive implant until you reach the menopause. It may not be safe or healthy to use the implant if:

  • You may be pregnant
  • You use medication that can interact with the implant
  • You have a history of cardiovascular disease or stroke
  • You have liver disease
  • You have breast cancer
  • You have a history of thrombosis or blood clots[1]
  • You have irregular bleeding or unexplained bleeding between periods.


What is the difference between the implant and the patch?

The contraceptive patch and the contraceptive implant are both types of hormonal contraception for women.

The patch is a discreet sticky patch that you apply to the skin. The device releases oestrogen and progestogen hormones which are absorbed through the skin. You change the patch weekly for three weeks. You should then have a week off, during which you will have a ‘withdrawal bleed like a period.

In contrast, the implant is a long-lasting, reversible contraceptive. The doctors insert it under local anaesthetic. It stays in place for three years providing continuous contraception, with no need to change the device during this time. It only releases progestogen. You may notice irregular bleeding initially; however, most women have light or absent periods after a few months.

How quickly does the implant prevent pregnancy?

You can have an implant fitted at any time in your menstrual cycle if it’s certain that you’re not pregnant.

  • If the implant is inserted on one of the first five days following the start of your period, the device will prevent pregnancy immediately.
  • If the implant is inserted later in your cycle, you should use additional protection such as condoms for the first seven days.

Types of consultations we offer

We offer written, telephone and video consultations with a range of male and female clinicians from GPs, nurse practitioners, and primary care specialists such as physiotherapy.