Progestin-only contraceptives: effects on weight

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Aug 28;2016(8):CD008815. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008815.pub4.


Background: Progestin-only contraceptives (POCs) are appropriate for many women who cannot or should not take estrogen. POCs include injectables, intrauterine contraception, implants, and oral contraceptives. Many POCs are long-acting, cost-effective methods of preventing pregnancy. However, concern about weight gain can deter the initiation of contraceptives and cause early discontinuation among users.

Objectives: The primary objective was to evaluate the association between progestin-only contraceptive use and changes in body weight.

Search methods: Until 4 August 2016, we searched MEDLINE, CENTRAL, POPLINE, LILACS,, and ICTRP. For the initial review, we contacted investigators to identify other trials.

Selection criteria: We considered comparative studies that examined a POC versus another contraceptive method or no contraceptive. The primary outcome was mean change in body weight or mean change in body composition. We also considered the dichotomous outcome of loss or gain of a specified amount of weight.

Data collection and analysis: Two authors extracted the data. Non-randomized studies (NRS) need to control for confounding factors. We used adjusted measures for the primary effects in NRS or the results of matched analysis from paired samples. If the report did not provide adjusted measures for the primary analysis, we used unadjusted outcomes. For RCTs and NRS without adjusted measures, we computed the mean difference (MD) with 95% confidence interval (CI) for continuous variables. For dichotomous outcomes, we calculated the Mantel-Haenszel odds ratio (OR) with 95% CI.

Main results: We found 22 eligible studies that included a total of 11,450 women. With 6 NRS added to this update, the review includes 17 NRS and 5 RCTs. By contraceptive method, the review has 16 studies of depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA), 4 of levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine contraception (LNG-IUC), 5 for implants, and 2 for progestin-only pills.Comparison groups did not differ significantly for weight change or other body composition measure in 15 studies. Five studies with moderate or low quality evidence showed differences between study arms. Two studies of a six-rod implant also indicated some differences, but the evidence was low quality.Three studies showed differences for DMPA users compared with women not using a hormonal method. In a retrospective study, weight gain (kg) was greater for DMPA versus copper (Cu) IUC in years one (MD 2.28, 95% CI 1.79 to 2.77), two (MD 2.71, 95% CI 2.12 to 3.30), and three (MD 3.17, 95% CI 2.51 to 3.83). A prospective study showed adolescents using DMPA had a greater increase in body fat (%) compared with a group not using a hormonal method (MD 11.00, 95% CI 2.64 to 19.36). The DMPA group also had a greater decrease in lean body mass (%) (MD -4.00, 95% CI -6.93 to -1.07). A more recent retrospective study reported greater mean increases with use of DMPA versus Cu IUC for weight (kg) at years 1 (1.3 vs 0.2), 4 (3.5 vs 1.9), and 10 (6.6 vs 4.9).Two studies reported a greater mean increase in body fat mass (%) for POC users versus women not using a hormonal method. The method was LNG-IUC in two studies (reported means 2.5 versus -1.3; P = 0.029); (MD 1.60, 95% CI 0.45 to 2.75). One also studied a desogestrel-containing pill (MD 3.30, 95% CI 2.08 to 4.52). Both studies showed a greater decrease in lean body mass among POC users.

Authors' conclusions: We considered the overall quality of evidence to be low; more than half of the studies had low quality evidence. The main reasons for downgrading were lack of randomizations (NRS) and high loss to follow-up or early discontinuation.These 22 studies showed limited evidence of change in weight or body composition with use of POCs. Mean weight gain at 6 or 12 months was less than 2 kg (4.4 lb) for most studies. Those with multiyear data showed mean weight change was approximately twice as much at two to four years than at one year, but generally the study groups did not differ significantly. Appropriate counseling about typical weight gain may help reduce discontinuation of contraceptives due to perceptions of weight gain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Composition / drug effects
  • Body Weight / drug effects*
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal / pharmacology
  • Drug Implants
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intrauterine Devices, Medicated
  • Levonorgestrel / pharmacology*
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / pharmacology*
  • Progestins / pharmacology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Weight Gain / drug effects


  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal
  • Drug Implants
  • Progestins
  • Levonorgestrel
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate