Birth Control Shot vs. Pill: Effectiveness and Side Effects

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Contraception is one of the most difficult of life choices one has to make, not just because of the number of options available, but because selecting the right method of birth control that suits both your lifestyle and your body is not quite as simple as going to the store to pick up a box.

From IUDs to condoms, pills to injectable, not every method is effective for everybody. Before you decide on the form of birth control you’d like to use, it’s advisable to consider the different types of choices available, and weigh the factors that influence a birth control experience.

While consulting with a medical professional should be the best way to choose the right contraceptive method for you, gathering as much information as you can on the subject doesn’t hurt.

A Brief Introduction to Contraceptive Methods

There are currently over 15 birth control methods available in the market.

Divided into 5 basic categories, birth control methods include:

  • Natural methods
  • Hormonal methods (such as the pill, or birth control shot)
  • Barrier methods (female or male condom)
  • Long-acting reversible contraception (implant or intrauterine devices)
  • Emergency contraception.
  • Permanent contraception (vasectomy or tubal ligation)

While each of these contraceptive methods allows users to engage in sexual activity without the fear of conception, there are a number of variables to consider when choosing one for use. The factors to keep in mind include:

  • Effectiveness
  • Accessibility
  • Partner involvement
  • Health risks
  • Adverse effects
  • Costs
  • Permanence
  • Prevention and protection from sexually transmitted diseases

Apart from the above mentioned factors, for a birth control method to be effective, it is essential that it be used correctly, as necessitated. However, contraceptives such as the pill or the condom that need to be taken or used every day or every time you have sex can be difficult to remember and keep track of.

One such method that eliminates this everyday hassle is the birth control shot.

What is the Birth Control Shot?

The injectable type of contraceptive, the birth control shot, also known as the depo-shot or DMPA, or even simply the shot, is a birth control injection you receive from your medical health provider once after every three months.

Sold commercially by the name of the Depo-Provera, the birth control shot contains the hormone progestin, which helps regulate the menstrual cycle such that it prevents a woman from conceiving a child even after engaging in sexual intercourse without using barrier protection. Progestin is the synthetic form of the naturally produced hormone progesterone which controls the period.

The birth control shot is available to those who opt for this particular form of contraception through their healthcare provider. For anyone who wants to get the shot, the first step is to get thoroughly evaluated by your doctor for any systemic or sexual health concerns. After reviewing your medical history and a thorough examination, you doctor may prescribe your contraceptive shot.

The birth control shot cost is often covered by medical insurance; however, it can run up to $250 per injection. The cost of the examination, medical tests and review, and the consultation fee of your healthcare provider is not included.

The injection, once administered, is known to cause temporary bruising at the injection site. However, there’s no long-term damage that occurs from administering the injectable contraception.

The Female and Male Birth Control Shot

Amongst others, the female birth control shot has been around for a while, available exclusively to women as a means of preventing unwanted pregnancies. Recently however, a male birth control shot was introduced in the market that hormonally alters the semen of the male users, enabling them to safely engage in intercourse without the fear of causing a pregnancy.

The male birth control shot is slightly less effective than the female one in preventing conception. This shot is the only hormonal contraceptive method made available for use exclusively for men.

While the female shot is administered every three months or between 13 to 14 weeks, the male shot needs to be given every 8 weeks in order to sufficiently reduce the sperm count to control unwanted pregnancies.

How Does the Birth Control Shot Work?

The birth control shot for women contains the hormone progestin – a synthetic version of the naturally occurring hormone progesterone. For men, the shot is a combination or two different injections – one is progresterone, while the other is testosterone undecanoate.

For females, the Depo-Provera works in three different ways to protect against unwanted conception. They include:

  • Altering the menstrual cycle to prevent ovulation so as to prevent the release of the egg
  • Thinning the lining of the uterine wall to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting itself
  • Thickening the cervical mucous, thus making it increasingly difficult for the sperm to enter the uterus and reach the egg.

For males, the combination of progesterone with the androgen testosterone helps decrease the sperm count.

How Effective Is the Birth Control Shot?

The birth control shot is one of the more effective methods of contraception, mostly because it eliminates the human error factor during use. A female birth control shot is 99 percent effective in preventing an unwanted pregnancy.

According to research, when administered regularly and on time, only 1 in a 100 women will conceive while getting the birth control shot. However, for women who are not consistent with the administration of the depo-shot, their chances of getting pregnant increase considerably. It has been reported that women who take the shot later than the recommended date are 6 times more likely to conceive a child while on birth control.

During the trail study conducted for men, the male birth control shot was found to be 96 percent effective in preventing pregnancies, with only 4 recorded over the course of the research.

When does the birth control start working?

The depo-shot begins working almost immediately after administration in cases where the shot is given within the first seven days of the menstrual cycle beginning. In cases where the shot is given at any other time during the monthly period, it is advisable to use another form of protection in other to prevent conception, at least for a week after receiving the injection.

The shot remains just as effective as it is normally for women who take it within five days of a miscarriage or an abortion.

The Birth Control Shot VS the Birth Control Pill

The birth control shot and the birth control pill are both hormonal types of contraceptives. Safe for use by women of all ages, both these birth control methods are quite different from one another and require serious consideration before use.

The Birth Control Pill

The pill is available in two different types, the mini-pill that is progestin only, and the regular pill that is a combination of the two female sexual hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone. The regular pill packet contains four weeks’ worth of pills with three weeks active and one week inactive or placebo pills. The mini-pill pack is slightly different in that it contains 28 active pills.

While the pill is said to be quite effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies by inhibiting the release of the egg from the ovary and increasing the buildup of cervical mucus, it’s not quite as effective as the birth control shot, mostly because it involves patient compliance to maintain effectiveness.  Women observe typical use of this particular form of contraception instead of the intended use of birth control – this means that instead of taking the pill regularly, on time, as directed, they may miss a dose or two, start a new pack later than they should, or take the pill at varying times throughout the day.

This reduces the efficacy of the contraceptive considerably, increasing the chances of a woman conceiving during intercourse.

Unlike the depo-shot which can cause up to three months of delay in the return of the normal menstrual cycle, stopping the pill allows women to resume their period cycle immediately.

How Safe Is the Birth Control Shot – The Associated Risks

The Depo-Provera birth control shot is considered quite safe for use generally and may be administered to healthy women between the ages of 18 to 44, depending on their medical history and evaluation.

However, like every other medicine, there are a few associated risks and adverse effects of the depo-shot.

The birth control shot is not recommended for use by people who have lower than normal bone density, or if they are prone to bone fractures. The contraceptive is contraindicated for use in women already pregnant, and is also inadvisable for those who may have a history of breast cancer, or are cancer survivors.

The depo-shot is also not recommended for you in case you have:

  • unexplained vaginal bleeding between periods or after sex
  • have any type of liver disease
  • are prone to migraines
  • are at a risk of osteoporosis
  • have blood clots

While the shot can be administered to teenagers, it is to be used with extreme caution and under supervision of a healthcare professional. DIY shot administration is not advisable for women below the age of 18.

That said, the Depo-Provera birth control injection is deemed a safe method of contraception. In fact, women can make their decision and have this form of contraception administered in as little as three weeks after giving birth, and have the birth control shot be as effective for them as it would normally be.

Irrespective of whether you think you have a clean bill of health or not, before you consider choosing this form of contraception, it’s recommended that you thoroughly weigh the pros and cons of the birth control shot.

Advantages of the Birth Control Shot

Considering the general birth control shot reviews, the injectable option is one of the more popular contraceptive choices out there, today. That is largely due to the number of advantages it has to offer.

Amongst others, the most common benefits of opting for the birth control shot include:

  • Effectiveness
  • Convenience
  • Privacy
  • Safety
  • Protection and relief
  • Lack of interactions

Effectiveness

A birth control shot is 99 percent effective when administered correctly and on time. It lasts up to 12 weeks, preventing unwanted pregnancies without fail.

Convenience

The beauty of this particular type of contraceptive method is that there is no hassle of everyday reminders to take the pill. You don’t have to interrupt your partner in the heat of the moment and frantically search around for a condom either. The shot gives you pregnancy-free peace of mind for up to 12 weeks.

Privacy

For women who wish to keep their contraceptive choices private, the birth control shot is a god send. It does not require the involvement of any one but the woman receiving the depo-shot and her healthcare provider; not even her sexual partner. The depo-shot is completely discreet, with any residual bruising fading away in a few days, effectively maintaining one’s privacy.

Safety

Not only is the birth control shot safe for use for normal health women, it is also safe for new mothers. The shot can be administered three weeks after childbirth and is also safe for your child in case you are exclusively breastfeeding.

Protection and relief

According to preliminary researches, it has been found that the birth control shots can provide relief against symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome. It can help reduce the blood flow in heavy periods, and it can also significantly relieve painful cramps. The injection also leads to marked improvement in symptoms of depression and endometriosis as well.

It is also said to protect against pelvic inflammatory disease by thickening the cervical mucus which helps keep the bacteria out of the uterus as well as the sperm. There’s also some indication of the shot protecting women against uterine cancer, though considerable research is still needed to confirm the claim.

The depo-shot also serves as a great alternative to women who suffer from extreme adverse effects of estrogen-based contraceptives.

Lack of interactions

Unlike other hormonal contraceptive methods which may interact adversely with other medications, the injection is completely safe and is not affected in any way by other drugs. So for those wondering if anti-biotics affect the birth control shot’s effectiveness – diminishing it – they do not.

The Disadvantages of the Birth Control Shot

While there are numerous benefits of using the birth control shot as your choice of contraceptive, there are also a few disadvantages to this method that every woman should take into consideration. These disadvantages include:

Unwanted Weight Gain

According to research, it was found that the Depo-Provera can cause users to gain weight at a faster rate as compared to other contraceptive methods such as the pill. First time users of the depo-shot can expect to gain up to five pounds within the first year.

Disrupted Menstrual Cycles

Irregular menstrual bleeding is one of the most common side effects of the birth control shot. Most women will experience delayed or disrupted period cycles almost immediately after the shot. The type of disruption experienced also differs considerably from person to person. While some women may bleed more frequently, many may stop experiencing menstrual bleeding all together. In fact, if the shot is administered consistently over a two year period, the user stops experiencing their period completely.

Some users have also complained of spotting off and on after administering the depo-shot.

Risk of STIs

The Depo-shot, much like the pill, does not protect the user against sexually transmitted infectious diseases. For people concerned with contracting diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other STDs, it is highly recommended that they reinforce their contraception by using protection such as condoms.

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions such as a rash on the body can occur in women following the administration of the birth control shot. However, these reactions are quite rare and don’t occur as often.

Loss of Bone Density

Not only is the birth control shot not recommended for people at the risk of osteoporosis, it is important to know that continual use of this form of contraception may cause normal, healthy women to lose bone density.

The decline in bone density is actually directly correlated to the duration of use of the contraceptive method. This means that the longer you depend on the birth control shot to prevent unwanted pregnancies, the greater the risk of losing bone density.

That’s not all. It has been found that the bone density may not entirely be reversible once the shot wears off and the use is stopped.

Keeping that in consideration, most healthcare providers recommend using vitamin D and calcium supplements regularly once a woman has been taking the shot regularly over the course of a year. Adding calcium abundant foods to your diet is also suggested.

Delayed Fertility

Unlike the birth control pill, which allows a woman to conceive within a few short months after stopping the use of the contraceptive, the birth control shot can delay fertility for up to a couple of years. In fact, it has been found that it takes a minimum of 10 to 12 months for a user to return to fertility after stopping the regular administration of the depo-shot.

Tracked Administration for Effectiveness

If you want complete, guaranteed protection against unwanted pregnancies, it is necessary for you to be very punctual when it comes to the administration of the shot. It is recommended that you use a tracking application to keep track of when the shot was administered and when it’s due so as to make sure you don’t get late in getting it or to prevent you from missing it altogether.

As mentioned earlier, the effectiveness of the birth control shot is reduced to 94% when used incorrectly or typically.

Increased Risk of Migraines

While conventional headaches are considered pretty much a standard side effect of all the various types of contraceptive methods, the birth control shot is known to exacerbate the risk of migraines. As such, in case you feel an increase in the intensity and frequency of your headaches following the administration of a depo-shot, it is highly recommended that you seek professional medical help as soon as possible.

Apart from the disadvantages mentioned above, the birth control shot is also known to cause:

  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Breast tenderness
  • Increased acne
  • Changes in appetite
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Loss of hair
  • Unwanted facial hair
  • Noticeable bruising at the injection site
  • Possibly a small, permanent indentation in the skin where the shot is administered
  • Increased depression in some cases.

Despite the obvious side effects and the disadvantages of the birth control shot, it is a very potent and highly effective contraceptive method that proves efficiency in preventing unwanted pregnancies in a vast majority of its users.

As such, one birth control method cannot be discounted in favor of another solely on the basis of its detriments. As with any medication that directly affects your systemic or sexual health, it is advisable for consumers to first consult with their medical health provider to weigh all the options and take into consideration all the good and bad factors of the birth control shot before selecting it as their contraceptive of choice.

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