Background: Many women want a lengthy duration of contraception but are wary of the menstrual changes from depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA). A subdermal levonorgestrel (LNG) implant may be a reasonable alternative. However, information on menstrual changes from these methods has not been summarized and compared in an easy-to-understand form.
Study design: We systematically reviewed the published literature on these contraceptives to find research that used menstrual diaries and standard World Health Organization definitions. We attempted to find information on amenorrhea, number of bleeding or spotting episodes, number of bleeding or spotting days and normal patterns, as reported in four consecutive 90-day reference periods.
Results: We found 16 published articles meeting our criteria and involving diaries of up to 1600 DMPA users and 2300 LNG implant users. We were able to compare the two methods on only three outcomes. For DMPA use, the weighted prevalence of amenorrhea at successive 90-day periods was 12%, 25%, 37% and 46%. The comparable estimates for the LNG implant were 11%, 13%, 9% and 13%. Levonorgestrel implant users experienced a higher average number of bleeding or spotting days compared to DMPA users, but this average was similar to what is expected naturally. At 12 months, normal menstrual patterns were experienced by 23% of LNG implant users compared to 11% of DMPA users.
Conclusions: Like most hormonal contraception, LNG implants usually produce menstrual changes; however, the changes do not appear to deviate from normal patterns as much as the changes from DMPA. Understanding these differences and other method attributes might help women make an informed choice about which contraceptive to use.