When Your Birth Control Implant Doesn’t Stay In Your Arm: The Truth about Nexplanon
If you’re a young woman, chances are you’ve seen the Nexplanon ad.
You know the one, with all of the stylishly dressed young women killing it in the workplace, telling you that they’ve “armored up” against an unplanned pregnancy? It’s clever enough, as the Nexplanon implant goes into one’s arm. Unfortunately, Merck (the makers of Nexplanon) may have to come up with another clever slogan for their device, as reports have surfaced that the matchstick-sized implant has a nasty habit of migrating elsewhere in a woman’s body, instead of staying put in her arm.
Like other methods of long-acting reversible contraception (or, “LARCs”), the Nexplanon implant is increasingly favored by patients and healthcare providers for its ease of use and compliance. Like the IUD, the idea behind Nexplanon is to function as a “set and forget” method of birth control, promising women up to three years of protection against unplanned pregnancy without having to worry about taking a daily pill.
Like the hormonal IUD, Nexplanon will continually “pump out” a steady, low dose of hormones into a woman’s body, in order to stave off pregnancy through various different functions. And while Nexplanon must be removed after three years, if it is lost and/or cannot be retrieved, it may still continue having an effect on the body even after the three-year mark.
As it turns out, Nexplanon—and its issues with migrating—are nothing new. Nexplanon is actually an updated version of a device called Implanon (which gained FDA approval in 2006), which was also a matchstick-sized hormonal LARC placed in the arm to prevent pregnancy for up to 3 years. With FDA approval of Nexplanon in 2011, Implanon has gradually been phased out, but it is still the subject of an ongoing lawsuit from women “who allege they were not properly warned about the risks associated with using Implanon.”
One of the issues with Implanon was not only that it had the potential to migrate to areas outside the arm—including the pulmonary artery, a vital blood vessel found in the lungs—but it was also impossible to find via x-ray. The updated version, i.e., Nexplanon, is now radio-opaque, meaning that if it does migrate (as it has been shown to do, despite the updates made to the original version), it can be located via x-ray. So, in a way, Nexplanon was developed with specific awareness of the implant’s risk of getting lost in a woman’s body, in mind.
Of course, migration to the lungs is a rare occurrence, but migration to other areas of the body or even within the arm itself can cause its own issues—including mandatory surgery to go “fishing” and “digging” for the implant, as one woman described her experience with removal of her migratory Nexplanon implant to the New York Post. “I was angry,” says Tenayah Dawson, who was told she needed an MRI to locate her implant because it had moved. “I was like, what do you mean it moved? I was really concerned. It moved? How can it move?” Dawson says it took over an hour of surgery for her doctor to find and remove the device.
Difficulties with insertion, migration, and retrieval aside (which, by the way, are also rare but serious issues shared by the other popular LARC, the IUD), Nexplanon also comes with the host of birth-control side effects that come with any form of hormonal contraception, such as the Pill. The most common side effects range from loss of libido and mood changes to migraines and blood clots.
The good news is there’s a better way to plan your family that doesn’t involve inserting foreign objects into your body: Fertility Awareness-Based Methods, also known as Natural Family Planning. These modern, scientifically-based methods of family planning are 100% natural (they work with your body’s natural processes of fertility, not against them), have zero side effects, and can be just as effective as the Pill, the implant, and the IUD. As a proud user of the Sympto-Thermal Method of NFP, I’ll take a thermometer in my mouth any day over a matchstick in my arm—especially one that could end up in my lungs. If you feel the same, it’s time to start learning about your options in Fertility Awareness-Based Methods or Natural Family Planning. Because, as it turns out, for women to reach the goal of scientifically proven and effective family planning, we don’t have to sacrifice our health.
*Nexplanon is a registered trademark of Merck.