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What is Depo-Provera?

Depo-Provera is a shot for women that prevents pregnancy. Depo-Provera consists of a hormone that is similar to the body's natural hormone progesterone. High levels of this hormone in your body prevents your ovaries from releasing an egg for the next 3 months. If eggs are not released, you cannot get pregnant.

How is it used?

Depo-Provera is given by a shot. You need to get the shot every 12 weeks (4 times per year). The shot usually goes into the arm muscle and hurts less than a regular vaccine shot. Sometimes there is irregular bleeding after the first or second shot, but usually your periods stop within one year of starting Depo-Provera.

If you have already started having sex, then you should have a pelvic exam and a pregnancy test done before you start on this method of birth control. The first Depo shot should be given within the first 5 days of starting a period, but it may be given at any time in your menstrual cycle. If you get the shot more than 5 days after your last menstrual period and you had sex within 2 weeks before getting the shot, you should repeat a pregnancy test 2 weeks after your last intercourse. This helps to make sure that you are not pregnant.

Even though Depo-Provera prevents pregnancy, it does not prevent sexually transmitted infections. Condoms need to be used to decrease the chance of getting a sexually transmitted infection.

What are the benefits?

  • Depo-Provera is a very private method of birth control. No one can tell if you got a shot, and you do not have to worry about taking a pill everyday.
  • Protection against pregnancy starts 24 hours after the shot.
  • Depo-Provera prevents pregnancy 99% of the time.

Since you may stop having menstrual periods while you are taking Depo-Provera, this method of birth control has other benefits, such as:

  • You are less likely to get anemic from the loss of blood during your periods.
  • You may no longer have a heavy menstrual flow or painful periods.
  • You may stop having symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

What are the risks?

At first, the increased level of progesterone in your body may cause irregular menstrual bleeding or spotting. Gradually, if you keep getting the shots, you will stop having periods. When you stop getting the shots, your menstrual periods will start to return to normal.

Many women have no problems while using Depo-Provera. However, sometimes it causes side effects such as:

  • weight gain
  • headaches
  • breast tenderness
  • tiredness and weakness
  • acne
  • abdominal pain
  • anxiety or depression
  • nausea
  • trouble sleeping
  • less interest in sex

Other cautions for Depo-Provera are:

  • This medicine may decrease the amount of calcium in your bones. This may increase your risk of osteoporosis and broken bones. Your provider may tell you to take calcium and vitamin D to lessen the loss of calcium from your bones. If you need birth control for more than 2 years, your healthcare provider may suggest another birth control method or ask you to have a bone density test.
  • If you have diabetes, Depo-Provera may cause a mild increase in your blood sugar. You may need to change the amount of medicine you take for diabetes. Check with your healthcare provider about this.
  • If you have a history of depression and are taking Depo-Provera, your provider will watch you closely for signs of depression. You may need to get help from a counselor and stop getting the shots if your depression comes back.

When should I call my health care provider?

Call if:

  • you have heavy vaginal bleeding
  • you have an abnormal vaginal discharge
  • you have bleeding that lasts for more than 10 days
  • you have severe cramps or abdominal pain
  • you were pregnant at the time of a shot or if you become pregnant within 4 months of a shot

Talk with your healthcare provider about birth control options and any concerns you have.

Written by Eric Sigel, MD, The Children's Hospital, Denver, CO.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-01-27
Last reviewed: 2009-12-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
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