, Volume 55, Issue 6, pp 861–887 | Cite as

Levonorgestrel Subdermal Implants

A Review of Contraceptive Efficacy and Acceptability
  • Allan J. Coukell
  • Julia A. Balfour
Adis Drug Evaluation


Levonorgestrel 6-capsule subdermal implants (Norplant®) are an effective form of reversible contraception. When implanted under the skin of the upper arm, they release drug into the circulation at a relatively constant rate over 5 years.

Generally, the cumulative pregnancy rate at the end of 5 years’ levonorgestrel implant use is less than 2 per 100 users. The implants provide contraceptive efficacy equivalent to, or better than, that provided by other reversible methods (including oral contraceptives). Younger women are more likely than older women to become pregnant while using levonorgestrel implants. Body weight was positively correlated with risk of pregnancy in a number of studies, but may not be a factor with the currently available 6-capsule implant formulation. Limited data suggest that a new 2-rod levonorgestrel subdermal system (Jadelle®) is as effective as the more extensively studied 6-capsule system and has a similar tolerability profile.

Fertility returns rapidly after the implants are removed. Use of levonorgestrel subdermal implants is compatible with breast-feeding. In several studies, discontinuation rates were 2 to 15% during the first year of use; cumulative 5-year discontinuation rates ranged from 22 to 64 per 100 women. Despite a substantial incidence of adverse events during therapy, levels of user satisfaction are generally high.

Menstrual abnormalities (increased or decreased menstrual flow, spotting, irregularity and amenorrhoea) affect most women at some time during therapy and are the most frequent reason for discontinuing levonorgestrel implants before the end of 5 years’ treatment (incidence of 4.2 to 30.7 per 100 users). Mood changes and headache also may lead to discontinuation. Other reported adverse events include skin reactions (including acne), dizziness and weight gain. Serious adverse events (such as stroke, thrombotic thrombocytopenia and idiopathic intracranial hypertension) have been reported during levonorgestrel implant therapy, but the population incidence is difficult to calculate and causality is unclear.

According to 3 pharmacoeconomic analyses from an institutional or managedcare perspective, all contraceptive interventions result in net cost savings. It is not clear whether levonorgestrel implants provide greater or smaller economic benefits than combined oral contraceptives.

Conclusion. Levonorgestrel subdermal implants provide effective long term contraception. Despite a high incidence of menstrual adverse events, overall levels of user satisfaction are high, and 1-year continuation rates are better than those for combined oral contraceptives. Levonorgestrel subdermal implants are a good choice of contraceptive method in women who desire effective contraception, but who are unable to, or prefer not to, comply with an oral regimen.


Adis International Limited Obstet Gynecol Contraceptive Method Levonorgestrel DMPA 
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Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Adis International LimitedMairangi Bay, Auckland 10New Zealand

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