Originally Published: November 16, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 8, 2007
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I was interested in using Depo-Provera as a birth control method, but I don't know that much about it. I was wondering if you could tell me about the risks and effectiveness of it. I am currently on the birth control pill, so would this cause any complications? Thank you for your help.

— Needles

Dear Needles,

Doing some research on a birth control method before trying it out is always a good idea. Depo-Provera (Depo) is a method that many women choose because it is both highly effective and low-maintenance. Every woman's experience with a method will be different, and side effects for hormonal methods are more common for some women than for others.

Since Depo is available by prescription only, you will be required to make an appointment with a health care provider. If you and your health care provider decide that it is the right method for you, s/he will administer a shot every three months. For women who don't like having to take a pill every day, Depo can be an incredibly convenient way to avoid pregnancy. When all shots are given on time, Depo is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. However, because the hormone level in Depo is so high (and most side effects are directly related to the hormone level), some women wanting a long-lasting form of birth control may opt for birth control methods with lower levels of hormones, such as the Nuva Ring or the Patch.

In terms of side-effects, Depo is known to cause increased menstrual bleeding and "spotting," or bleeding between regular periods, for some women. In many cases, bleeding can become lighter, less frequent, or stop altogether after a few weeks. Many side effects from hormonal methods of birth control will decrease or go away completely after a woman's body gets used to the hormonal changes. With Depo, the bleeding-related side effects usually stop after 3 doses, or 6 to 9 months.

Studies have shown that taking Depo can cause loss in bone density that can lead to an increased risk for osteoporosis. As a result, Depo is not recommended for long-term use or for younger women who may still be growing. Other side effects may include weight gain, change in sex drive, headaches, and depression. Women who have unexplained vaginal bleeding, are pregnant, or might be pregnant should not use Depo. It also may not be recommended for women who take psychotropic drugs including anti-depressants, or have gallbladder disease, liver disease, or a history of depression. If you are planning on becoming pregnant in the future, you should know that it can take the body anywhere from a few months to more than a year for regular fertility to return after you stop taking Depo.

There are no risks associated with changing from one hormonal method (like the pill) to another (like Depo.) Remember, if you and your health care provider decide that Depo is the right birth control method for you, you will still need an additional barrier method to protect against HIV and other STIs.

More information about Depo and other forms of birth control is available from Planned Parenthood.