Contraceptive Implants


Average Failure Rate: 2.3%

Norplant is a progestin contraceptive implant, consisting of six small plastic rods. These are surgically placed under the skin of the upper arm for up to five years, during which time the rods slowly release progestin into the body.
Effectiveness varies due to numerous factors; teens, heavier women, those who have had the implant for several years, and women using hard capsules as opposed to soft ones will experience more failures than typically expected.

How Norplant Works

The mechanism for action is the same as that of other hormonal methods. Norplant may stop the release of an egg from the ovaries so that it cannot be fertilized, thus preventing pregnancy. Roughly half of all women taking Norplant continue to ovulate, making fertilization more likely than with combined OCs. If conception does occur, changes in the uterus will cause the expulsion of the embryo. More about how this works...

Side-Effects and Health Risks of Norplant

Common side effects include menstrual disturbances, headaches, acne, weight gain, nausea, anxiety, hair loss, and ovarian cysts. Because of these problems, half of all Norplant users have the implants surgically removed before the third year, despite the fact that Norplant is intended as a five-year contraceptive. insurance companies, which paid for insertion, do not always pay for removal. Removal takes more time, costs more, and can cause severe scarring.

Discontinued Birth Control Implants

Due to many unwanted side-effects — that were not properly disclosed to the public in advance — Norplant is no longer available in the United States. However, some women still have Norplant in their arms and will need to have it removed. The manufacturers have no plans to reintroduce the implant into the US, but a similar product called Implanon is available in the US and Europe.

Documented Side Effects of Norplant
Side Effect Approximate Users Affected
Menstrual Cycle Disturbances 4 in 5
Headaches 1 in 6
Ovarian Enlargement 1 in 12
Dizziness 1 in 14
Breast Tenderness 1 in 15
Nervousness 1 in 15
Nausea 1 in 15
Acne 1 in 17
Dermatitis/Skin Inflammation 1 in 17
Breast Discharge 1 in 24
Weight Gain 1 in 18
Unwanted Hair Growth or Loss 1 in 50

Information listed includes only those symptoms reported by users. Actual numbers may be higher.

Source: R. Hatcher et al., "Contraceptive Technology," 17th ed., 1998, Table 20-6.

Dive Deeper

Go to next section [intrauterine device]


The information provided on is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational purposes and does not constitute the practice of medicine. We encourage all visitors to see a licensed physician or nutritionist if they have any concerns regarding health issues related to diet, personal image and any other topics discussed on this site. Neither the owners or employees of nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.