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Birth Control Shot

What Is It?
The birth control shot is a long-acting form of the hormone progesterone, which is a hormone that is naturally manufactured in a girl's ovaries. The shot is given as an injection in the upper arm or in the buttocks once every 3 months to protect a woman from becoming pregnant.

How Does It Work?
The hormone progesterone in the birth control shot primarily works by preventing ovulation (the release of an egg during the monthly cycle). If a woman doesn't ovulate, she cannot get pregnant because there is no egg to be fertilized.

How Well Does It Work?
The birth control shot is a very effective method of birth control. Over the course of 1 year, fewer than three out of 100 typical couples who use the birth control shot every 3 months will have an accidental pregnancy. The chance of getting pregnant increases if you wait longer than 3 months to receive your next shot.

In general, how well each type of birth control method works depends on a lot of things. These include whether a person has any health conditions or is taking any medications that might interfere with its use. It also depends on whether the method chosen is convenient - and whether the person remembers to use it correctly all of the time.

Protection Against STDs
The birth control shot does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In fact there are studies that show that the birth control shot may possibly increase the risk of getting certain STDs. Scientists do not understand why, however. For those having sex, condoms must always be used along with the shot to protect against STDs.

Abstinence (the decision to not have sex) is the only method that always prevents pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Possible Side Effects
Many women who receive the birth control shot will notice a change in their periods. The other side effects that some women have include:

  • irregular or no menstrual periods
  • weight gain, headaches, and breast tenderness
  • depression

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a safety warning with regard to the use of the long-acting progesterone shot. Studies link this shot to a loss of bone density in women, although bone density may recover when a woman is no longer getting the shot. Doctors are not sure how this type of shot may affect the bone density of adolescent girls in the future, though. So girls who are considering the shot as a method of birth control should talk to their doctors about it. Women who smoke should be sure to let their doctors know because smoking may be connected to this bone density loss.

Who Uses It?
Every method of birth control should be considered in light of what works for the individual. Young women who have a hard time remembering to take birth control pills and who want extremely good protection against pregnancy use the birth control shot. Also, nursing mothers can use the birth control shot.

Not all women can - or should - use the birth control shot. In some cases, medical or other conditions make the use of the shot less effective or more risky. For example, it is not recommended for women who have had blood clots, high blood pressure, certain types of cancers, certain types of migraine headaches, or uncontrolled diabetes. Girls who have had unexplained vaginal bleeding (bleeding that is not during their periods) or who suspect they may be pregnant should talk to their doctors.

A girl who is interested in learning more about different types of birth control, including the shot, should talk to her doctor or other health professional.

How Do You Get It?
The shot must be prescribed and is given every 3 months in a doctor's office.

How Much Does It Cost?
Each injection (3 months' worth of birth control) costs about $60. Many health insurance plans cover the cost of birth control shots, as well as the cost of the doctor's visit. Family planning clinics (such as Planned Parenthood) may charge less.

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