Yesterday, an article in the Daily Mail got women thoroughly panicked. The subject? The Implanon, a hormonal birth control insert about the size of a matchstick that is place under a woman’s skin to prevent pregnancy, and its propensity for going walk-about in the human body. In typical Mail fashion, the rag played fast and loose with the actual findings–and, what’s worse, prompted other, more respectable news outlets to do the same. So let’s set the record straight, shall we?
First, let’s just say that Implanon is far from perfect. It’s supposed to be inserted by a needle, at which point it will ground itself in your arm with scar tissue. That means that there could be bruising, skin redness, and even an allergic reaction. That’s just par for the course. And, in some cases, mostly with improper insertion (which is the fault of the person performing the insertion, not of the implant), it may not be able to release hormones into the blood stream, which could lead to pregnancy.
Another thing that could lead to pregnancy? Not actually inserting the implant at all–which also happens. 14 women in the UK in 2011 sought damages because they became pregnant. Some of them, according to charging papers, alleged that they didn’t realize that the implant hadn’t actually gone in at all. The needle went in, but no implant made it. Which is expressly cautioned against in the paperwork for the insert:
The implant may not be placed in your arm at all due to a failed insertion or if the implant has fallen out of the needle. If this happens, you may become pregnant. Immediately after insertion, and with help from your healthcare provider, you should be able to feel the implant under your skin. If you can’t feel the implant, tell your healthcare provider.
Sure, the insertion process isn’t perfect–but with a tiny bit of caution and consumer education, some of these pregnancies can absolutely be avoided.
And, like all hormonal birth controls, even then, it is not 100% effective. Despite having a reported fail rate of less than 1% with perfect insertion, you can still get pregnant on it. In January of this year, the MHRA (a British health consumer watchdog group) found that at least 584 pregnancies had occurred in the UK in women who had the Implanon. And while that may sound scary, consider the statistics. According to the BBC, it’s estimated that about 1.4 million women have used this method in the last 13 years. So 600 is still not that many, and, hence, not a reason to panic.
Which brings me to my next point. The Mail claims that they have special, not-released-anywhere-else data that shows that “until August 2012″ (that is, between 1999, when the Implanon was released, and August, 2012, or 13 years later), “a total of 2,314 spontaneous suspected adverse drug reactions had been reported associated with Implanon and its successor Nexplanon. This included 36 spontaneous reactions of devices moving from their original site.”
That’s 2,314 “adverse drug reactions”–which can happen with any hormonal birth control because human bodies are weird and hormones are even weirder–and just 36 cases of the Implanon or its successor, the Nexplanon, moving.