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Fertility Fears: Contraceptive implants may have gone missing in the bodies of hundreds of women.

Posted in Personal Health 05 Sep, 2012

It has shockingly emerged that a popular contraceptive implant may have been lost in the bodies of hundreds of women, raising fears and concern for their future fertility. Used by thousands of women in the UK for preventing pregnancies, the implant has over the years been seen by many women as a popular and convenient alternative to other contraceptive methods such as the contraceptive pill or contraceptive patch. According to the Daily Mail, however, scores of complaints from women claiming that their Implanon implants have gone missing, promote the question: has ‘convenience’ come at a price?

The history

The implant was considered to have a number of benefits that evidently drew a substantial number of women living in the UK to choose it as their main method of contraceptive protection. It can be left for a sufficient amount of time, thus women do not have to worry about remembering to take it, as is the case with the pill. It conveniently is not affected by antibiotics, it only consists of the hormone progestogen and subsequently is suitable for women who can not use contraceptives that contain the hormone oestrogen and most importantly like other contraceptives, if implanted correctly, it is 99% effective in preventing unplanned pregnancies. However, if these recent reports are true, all the benefits associated with this contraceptive can not make up for the fact that this contraceptive option may have the potential to disappear within the user's body.

Manufactured by Merck, the Implanon device is a small flexible tube that is inserted under the skin in the upper arm. It works over the course of three years by slowly releasing the hormone progestogen into the blood, thickening the cervical mucus and thinning the womb lining. This stops the ovaries from releasing eggs, resulting in the womb being less receptive to accepting a fertilised egg. However, despite being marketed as easy to insert and remove (via a trained doctor), the recent controversy surrounding the implant is evident through online forums.

A forum user called Claire T, posted her concerns on the online site Netmums and asked: ‘Has anyone else had a problem with their Implanon going missing? I went to have mine removed 5 months ago but the doctor couldn’t feel where it was so sent me for an ultrasound which didn't find it so I am now waiting for an MRI scan to see if that picks it up.’ Similarly Nici Davies, 37, was offered the implant in 2010 and was adamant that she was told it could easily be removed when or if she decided she wanted children. However, when she requested it be taken out, three different doctors failed to find the device. Awaiting a scan, she has been warned that the device may never be found, telling the newspaper red top The Sun that '[t]he implant can last five years. I am left with no chance of having children.'

Past concerns

This is not the first time that the implant has controversially hit the headlines, after garnering news attention last year when a group of women launched legal action after they received the device but still fell pregnant.

A total of 584 women who previously had the implant inserted, reported unwanted pregnancies to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency – the Government’s drugs and medical devices watchdog. Thus some findings showed that in some cases the device had not been inserted at all.

The watchdog received 1,607 complaints about the implant going wrong, including some from doctors deeply concerned that it is impossible to check if they are correctly installed because they are invisible to X-rays. Implanon’s manufacturer MSD, a subsidiary of global pharmaceutical giant Merck, has now replaced it with an updated product called Nexplanon, which has a new pre-loaded applicator and contains barium so it can be detected by X-ray or CT scan. However, for reasons not known, the existing stock of Implanon has not been withdrawn, meaning women are still being given it by their doctors.

Despite the evidence stacked against it, the MHRA have downplayed any issues associated with the Implanon implant, arguing that although there have been reports of problems with inserting and removing Implanon, women who can feel their implant and within the three-year time frame have no cause for action.

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