Depo-Provera (Birth Control Shot)

What Is the Depo-Provera Shot?

Depo-Provera is a birth control method that women can get as a shot. You might hear people call it a contraceptive injection or birth control shot. It’s a manmade hormone, medroxyprogesterone, which is similar to the natural female hormone progesterone.

You get the shot in your arm or buttock. It works for up to 12 to 14 weeks. You have to get it every 12 weeks to get full protection..

How Effective Is Depo-Provera?

The Depo-Provera shot is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if you get it every 3 months, as directed. But because that isn’t always possible, typical effectiveness is around 94%. That means for every 100 women who get the shot, about 6 will have an accidental pregnancy.

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Here’s how that stacks up against other types of reversible (nonpermanent) birth control:

  • Hormone implant: 99.9% effective
  • Levonorgestrel intrauterine device (LNG IUD): 99.9%-99.6% effective
  • Copper IUD: 99.2% effective
  • Birth control pill: 93% effective
  • Birth control patch: 93% effective
  • Vaginal ring: 93% effective
  • Male condom: 87% effective
  • Diaphragm: 83% effective
  • Sponge: 86% effective in women who’ve never given birth, 73% effective in those who have
  • Female condom: 79% effective
  • Spermicide: 79% effective

How long does the Depo-Provera shot take to work?

Depo-Provera starts to work as birth control right away if you get it within the first 5 days of your period.

What happens if I’m late getting my Depo-Provera shot?

You’re more likely to get pregnant if you’re more than 2 weeks behind schedule in getting your shot. Use another form of birth control to be safe.

How Does the Depo-Provera Shot Work?

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The hormone works on your pituitary gland, causing your ovaries to stop sending out eggs. Without eggs, you can’t get pregnant. It also changes the lining of your uterus and the mucus in your cervix. That makes it harder for sperm to reach any eggs that might be released.

Side Effects of the Depo-Provera Shot

When you’re on Depo-Provera, you may notice side effects like:

  • Uneven menstrual periods or no periods at all
  • Headaches
  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Acne
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Unwanted facial and body hair
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of bone mineral density
  • Belly pain
  • Bloating
  • Breakthrough bleeding
  • Fatigue
  • Less interest in sex
  • Weakness

Changes to your menstrual cycle are the most common side effects. After a year of use, about 50% of women will stop getting their periods. If this happens to you, your period should come back when you stop getting the shots.

Long-term use of Depo-Provera may cause you to lose bone mineral density, which makes you more likely to get osteoporosis. Your chances are higher if you've taken the shot for longer than 2 years, especially if osteoporosis runs in your family, if you drink a lot, if you smoke, or if you have other risk factors for the condition.

Withdrawal from Depo-Provera

A few women have reported flu-like symptoms and unusual bleeding after stopping Depo-Provera, but there isn’t much research on whether these things are linked. Other women report symptoms similar to the known side effects.

Who Shouldn’t Get the Depo-Provera Shot?

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It’s OK for most women. But you shouldn’t get it if you have:

  • Vaginal bleeding with no clear cause
  • Liver disease
  • Breast cancer
  • Blood clots

Your doctor will be cautious about giving it to you if you’re a teenager or if you have:

  • Diabetes
  • A history of depression
  • A history of heart attack or stroke
  • Osteoporosis or a high risk for it

Can I Get Pregnant After I Stop Using Depo-Provera?

You can become pregnant as soon as 3 to 4 months after your last shot. But it takes some women several months to conceive after they stop using this type of birth control. The time frame doesn’t seem to be linked to how long you got the shots.

Benefits of the Depo-Provera Shot

In addition to preventing pregnancy, the benefits of Depo-Provera include:

  • You don't have to remember to take it every day or use it before sex.
  • You don’t have to pause sex to get protection or rely on a risky method like withdrawal.
  • It gives long-term protection as long as you get the shot every 3 months.
  • It's very effective.
  • You get birth control without having to take estrogen.
  • It can make your period lighter and less painful. It might even stop it.
  • It could make you less likely to get endometrial cancer.

Depo-Provera Shot Cost

Injections may be free or cost up to $150 each, depending on your insurance. They may be cheaper at family planning clinics.

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