What you need to know about the Etonogestrel birth control implant

Contraceptive use in Nigeria remains a convoluted and controversial topic. While the narrative surrounding reproductive health and family planning have evolved over the years, there remains a sense of derision when contraceptives are brought up, especially concerning a woman’s agency over her body.

This attitude, however, is as a result of intersecting religious and cultural beliefs, as well as a lack of credible information. While some of these unfounded theories range from contraceptives causing permanent infertility to its ability to increase promiscuity among women, there are several benefits attached to the use of contraceptives in day to day living. 

With proper information and use, contraceptives have been known to prevent complicated pregnancies that could to fatal results, reduce population growth – especially in cases where resources available aren’t a match for population growth rate, but most importantly, it gives the parties involved a choice in the matter, and a chance to enjoy sex unencumbered by the thoughts of an unwanted pregnancy

Thankfully, in this day and age, there exist a plethora of options when it comes to contraceptives. From male and female condoms to the pill, each option is tailor-made to meet the needs of a wide range of sexually active members of the community. However, having so many options also poses a dilemma as to which will be best suited for you and the possible side effects attached.

Of all the government-approved methods of birth control available, the Etonogestrel birth control implant might be the one you’ve heard the least about, so we’ve decided to break everything down by answering possible questions about this revolutionary birth control device.  

What is Etonogestrel? 

Etonogestrel is a thin and flexible single-rod birth control implant the size of a match stick. Inserted discreetly in your inner upper arm by medical personnel, it prevents pregnancy for up to three years thanks to the release of progestin. 

How does it work? 

Etonogestrel prevents pregnancies by continually releasing a low dose of progestin over its three-year duration. “It is a hormonal contraceptive so majorly, it inhibits ovulation – stopping the ovaries from releasing eggs. It also increases the cervical mucus, making it more difficult for the sperm to get to the eggs,” Dr. Akintomide Akinyemi, an ob/gyn with Medison Specialist Women’s Hospital in Oniru, Lagos State, tells Love Matters Naija. In essence, when there is no egg released or pathway for the sperm to swim, you simply can’t get pregnant.

What are my odds? 

While a lot of contraceptives are marketed in a way that makes them infallible, it is imperative to research and understand their levels of effectiveness. Unmatched, while the hormonal IUD’s failure rate is 0.2 percent and the copper IUD’s stand at 0.8 percent, Etonogestrel presents itself as a more reliable option with a failure rate of 0.05 percent. One in every 100 women who use it for a year, get pregnant. 

The implant might also be less effective if you’re overweight. Why? This is because the amount of hormone actively circulating the blood will be lower in women with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI). 

Another major point to note is that while the implant is built to last for three years, the amount of progestin released slowly decreases over time, this means, the longer you have it, the less effective it gets. 

Does it prevent STDs? 

Contraceptives can be defined as a drug or device used to prevent pregnancy. And while condoms pull double duty in the sense that they prevent pregnancies as well as Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD), the implant doesn’t perform the same function. So pregnancy, yes. STDs, no. 

The procedure

No, you don’t have to worry about major surgery, the implant process is fairly simple. Before the implantation, you will be given a local anesthetic to help numb the area, this would be followed by the insertion of the rubber-like implant with a needle using a plunger from the syringe by qualified medical personnel. This will only take a few minutes, Dr. Akinyemi explains. “After that, I like to scan the arm to make sure it’s placed properly and to also reassure the patient,” he adds. 

I shouldn’t use it if I am? 

Unfortunately, not everyone can use Etonogestrel. People who shouldn’t use it include: 

  • Pregnant women 
  • Women suffering from, or previously suffered from blood clots, such as blood clots in your leg (deep venous thrombosis), lungs (pulmonary embolism), eyes (total or partial blindness), heart (heart attack), or brain (stroke)
  • Women who have liver disease or liver tumor 
  • Women who have unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • Women who suffer, or have suffered from breast cancer or any cancer that is sensitive to progestin
  • Women allergic to anything in Nexaplanon

What happens when I take it out? 

No need to worry. If your plans change, thanks to the low doses of hormones being released, you can consult a medical professional to take it out and just like that, you’re back to your regular programming. 

What side effects should I expect? 

The most common change you might have to look forward to has a lot to do with your period. You might experience:

  • Longer or shorter bleeding during your period
  • No bleeding at all during the time of your period
  • Spotting between your periods
  • Varied amounts of time between your periods

Dr. Akinyemi also tells us that the major risk with the implant is losing it, which would mean the patient will be saddled with all the effects – positive and negative – until the implant expires. He also lists mood swings, acne and weight gain as some of the common side effects of the implant, saying, “So one of the side effects is weight gain. When that happens, fatty layers may cover the implant and obscure it when you’re trying to remove it in the future.”

Some other side effects that may occur include: 

  • Headache
  • Vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina)
  • Breast pain
  • Viral infections, such as sore throats or flu-like symptoms
  • Stomach pain
  • Back pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Pain
  • Pain at the site of insertion

Where can I get it in Nigeria? 

As previously stated, Etonogestrel is not common. However, it can be purchased and inserted with the help of medical professionals from Marie Stopes, with clinics located in Lagos and Abuja, as well as Medison Specialist Women’s Hospital Oniru, Lekki, Lagos, among others. 

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