Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Coming off Depo-Provera can be a woman’s worst nightmare

April 4th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

Need proof that women are sometimes desperate for information and support when it comes to quitting hormonal contraception? You need look no further than the 100 plus comments in reply to an old blog posting at Our Bodies OurselvesQuestions About Side Effects of Stopping Contraceptive Injections.  The comment stream – a litany of woes concerning women’s discontinuation of Depo-Provera – has been active since Nov. 2, 2009.

On March 29, 2012, Rachel, author of the post, wrote a follow-up piece in which she laments: “Although a quick internet search finds many women complaining of or asking about post-Depo symptoms, there isn’t much published scientific evidence on the topic.” Beyond research about bone density and length of time to return to fertility, little is known about the withdrawal symptoms women have been commenting about.

Depo-Provera is the 4-times-a-year birth control injection that carries an FDA “black box” warning that long-term use is associated with significant bone mineral density loss.  Never a fan, I made a case against this contraceptive in a paper for Canadian Woman Studies, published in 2005. The comments on the OBOS post indicate that many women took Depo-Provera without full knowledge of the potential for serious side effects while taking it, or of what to expect while coming off the drug.

Considering that Depo-Provera completely suppresses normal reproductive endocrine function, it is not surprising that many women experience extreme or confusing symptoms once stopping it. Take Lissa’s comment for example, posted on February 21, 2011:

Omg I thought I was tripping. I have been on depo for a year and stopped in jan. My breasts constantly hurt, I put on weight, have hot flashes, and sleeping problems. I pray everyday my cycle returns and stops playing with me. I only spot lightly.

Two and a half years after publication, the original article continues to garner monthly comments. I’ve read most of them and have yet to see one that offers concrete advice or a referral to resources that provide information and support to women looking for both. One such resource is Coming Off The Pill, the Patch, the Shot and Other Hormonal Contraceptives, a comprehensive, clinical-based guide to assist women transition back to menstruation and fertility, written by Megan Lalonde and Geraldine Matus.

Lalonde, a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner, and Certified Professional Midwife, helps women establish healthy, ovulatory cycles after using hormonal contraception. She says that women who’ve used Depo-Provera generally experience the most obvious symptoms and have the hardest time returning to fertility.  She finds that every client’s experience is different and will be affected by the status of their cycles before taking the drug, and their overall health. “It can take time to regain normal menstrual cycles, from a few months to 18 months, in my experience,” says Lalonde. “Some women have minimal symptoms while their own cycles resume, while others might have significant symptoms, including mood changes, unusual spotting and breast tenderness.”

The comments to the Our Bodies Ourselves blog post demonstrate that many women are not finding the acknowledgement and support they need to understand and manage the post-Depo transition. Some are disheartening to read, like this comment by Judy from April 12, 2011, and this recent one posted by Melani on March 21, 2012.

In my last re: Cycling post, I asked for input on the Coming Off the Pill Mind Map I created. I’ll be making a few revisions thanks to the thoughtful feedback readers have provided. I had assumed that this guide would be applicable to all methods of hormonal birth control but, after reading these women’s comments about their Depo-Provera experiences, it appears this contraceptive may require its own branch on the mind map.

  

904 Responses to “Coming off Depo-Provera can be a woman’s worst nightmare”

  1. Sharon says:

    Hi, I have been On the depo for 11yrs and decided to stop about 6 months ago. So I can start a family. my symptoms have been some breast tenderness that doesn’t really bother me, my periods have been some short, and some months long… Things I have notice help with a regulating my cycle was excercizing. The times I was frequently eating healthy and excercizing I did notice my periods where the most normal… When I was on the depo I did notice joint pain and not much of a sex drive.. Also pain when having sex,.. I must say know that I have been off it my sex drive is back and it no longer hurts to have sex… All in all I haven’t really experienced any weight gain or loss I think do to the fact I eat pretty healthy and exercise frequently ..I started around my 20′s and know I’m in my early 30′s.. I know everyone has different symptoms and can freak people out when you have unusual cycles. I’m posting this just because I think the more we can learn from one another the better!

  2. Sharon says:

    Hi, I have been On the depo for 11yrs and decided to stop about 6 months ago. So I can start a family. my symptoms have been some breast tenderness that doesn’t really bother me, my periods have been some short, and some months long… Things I have notice help with a regulating my cycle was excercizing. The times I was frequently eating healthy and excercizing I did notice my periods where the most normal… When I was on the depo I did notice joint pain and not much of a sex drive.. Also pain when having sex,.. I must say know that I have been off it my sex drive is back and it no longer hurts to have sex… All in all I haven’t really experienced any weight gain or loss I think do to the fact I eat pretty healthy and exercise frequently ..I started around my 20′s and know I’m in my early 30′s.. I know everyone has different symptoms and can freak people out when you have unusual cycles. I’m posting this just because I think the more we can learn from one another the better!

  3. Katherine Rose says:

    Hi, I have posted here abit. Long term user of the depo, have tried to get off for a few years, but the withdrawal symptoms always made me get another shot. Until my last shot in May last year, my next shot was due in August, but i didn’t get it. I finally decided I would ride out the withdrawal symptoms no matter what. To say it has been a nightmare is letting it off lightly, it has almost driven me insane, to the point of considering if life was even worth living. The ongoing breast pain, on and off swelling, sweating, insomnia, weight gain etc the list goes on. I went to specialists, doctors, family contraception centers and no one could help me. I finally got some light cycle last month (6 months after shot was due) and it is heavier this month, however I still get the breast pain about a week before. But it is no where as bad as it was and its a relief to know my body is finally getting into a natural rhythm again. Started at the gym and clean healthy eating, as now want to focus on dropping the weight gained. No unfortunately it just didnt come off over night with my first cycle returning:( I sure as heck will not be letting my daughter go near any hormonal contraception when she is of age. To all those still waiting and wondering what the heck is going on. Hang in there. I agree with others who have posted, that around the 6 month mark things start to get better and cycle returns.

  4. Raylene says:

    Hi, I’m 20 years old. I’ve been on the shot for two years now. My last injection was in early December. I was suppose to get it again in February but I decided to stop. But in February I had also gotten my period right after I missed the injection. I hadn’t had one for the whole two years, but it seamed pretty normal. But for two days now I have been bleeding brown. Its only little drops. But now theres huge clumps of brown blood. I Was just wondering if anyone else has experienced the same.

    • Kayla says:

      I had that happen when I would get my period in between shots.. When I asked my doctor, she said it wasn’t anything to worry about. I looked it up and found this site and I’m a little less worried about all of the things I find concerning.. read through the comments of others and find out what everyone else says! :) Good luck!

    • Nyree says:

      This exact same thing is happening to me. Same case I was supposed to get my shot in feb but decided to come off birth control for a while. I havent had a period since I started 2 years ago. After I missed my shot I had a period and since then I’ve been spotting brown blood. And its been like a month now and my sex drive is extremely high. I’m just thinking of getting back on the shot so I can be back normal.

  5. Stacy says:

    I just decided not to pursue the next depo shot as I have had nothing but problems. I’ve been on the depo shot for almost 2.5 years now. I’ve gained almost 15 pounds and I’m a complete health nut and gym buff. I’ve also had no periods in two years resulting in getting all the period symptoms with no relief! The bone density comment previously struck a chord with me because I use to be able to do like 100 push ups and now I feel so weak I can barely do 20…even though I work out 6 times a week and take protein. I really honestly feel there is something wrong with the depo shot and I don’t recommend it to anybody.

  6. Jessica says:

    Hello, I’m 28 years old, I got my first Depo shot at 15 and stopped taking it at 19. I wasn’t able to get on anything else afterward because I lost my insurance. It took me a year to start having a period again, and then it was have a period for a couple weeks, then nothing for up to 6 months at a time. At about age 22 I started having non-stop extremely heavy periods. This lasted for months at a time. I would still skip for months on end between periods.

    I thought all this was done and over with by the time I hit 26 because I started getting regular again. I now have started having months long periods again. Currently it’s been 3 months with no end in sight. I do not know if the Depo is still causing these problems, but it has been mentioned to me that it could’ve had an long term effect on my body due to how young I was when I started.

    I gained roughly 60 pounds in the 2 years after getting off of the shot. My hormones are still imbalanced to this day. My teeth started breaking a year after I got off the shot. I was not told by my doctor when I started it at 15 that I needed to supplement any calcium or anything.

    If I would’ve known all of this would happen from me taking this shot I never would’ve done it. I was told it was safe, that it wouldn’t do anything but possibly make me gain some weight….that some people experienced hair loss. That’s all I was told, I wasn’t warned about the calcium problem, wasn’t warned about the non-stop periods and pain after coming off of it..that is when they actually started up again.

  7. Nicole says:

    I only took two 10mg pills of provera how long will this stay in my body?

  8. khaira says:

    I was in depo shot for almost 3 years i recently stopped in december and its been 2 months with severe and strong pain in my breast ..its too much pain it makes me want to cry. Does any of you experience the same pain or similar ?? Or better question
    is this even normal ??????

    • Kayla says:

      I had it so bad that I could barely wear a shirt, let alone a bra. I know your pain! Supposedly that’s your hormones fighting with each other. it goes away after a few days :)

    • angela says:

      Hi Khaira,
      I recently posted that I was on the depo for 2yrs 6mths and just got off it dec 2014….it has been a nightmare!
      I honestly didnt think anything of it until i went to the hospital in feb 2015 for pain in my breast/chest and muscle spasms and they ran so many test and everything came back normal and healthy. The only they said was drink more water and exercise. I dont think its normal but I guess I just have to ride it out for 6mths bc it looks like after doing my research many women say it takes up to 6mths for it to leave your body…sigh.
      Also, I have joined a gym and exercise 3xs a week and feel a little bit better health wise however, my breast still hurt every now and then.

  9. angela says:

    Hi Jessica,
    Oh my I was never told about the calcium either! I have broken 3 of my teeth since I was on the depo from june 2012 to dec 2015. The rootcanals/crowns have cost me, ugh!
    Since I been off from dec2014 to now I have been hurting! My boobs hurt, my arms, shoulders and back hurt (dr said muscle spasms), nauseated, dizzy, i mean the list goes on. I dont feel like me anymore with my constant aches and pains. I sure hope my hormones go back to normal soon.

  10. Allyra says:

    I had been on the depo for 5 years from 17-22 and then another 3 from 24-27… the first time i came off i had no problems but this time i have the sorest breasts i have to hold them when i take my bra off and rolling on my side in bed hurts them even more. Ive also put on a heap of weight, most of which has Gone to my beasts so they are ridoculously big and i get hot flushes. I stopped the needle 2 months ago so im hoping these symptoms will ease up soon!

  11. cheriece says:

    ive been off the depo for 7 months my cycle lasted 5 days for the first six months i got my cycle at the end of febuary and i still have it til this day its driving me crazy and my cycle is heavy i dont noe what to do anymore

  12. Tindrea says:

    I got my depo for the first time in my life December 3rd, 2014 We decided to try for another baby I didn’t get my next shot which was due March 3,2015. What are my chances of getting pregnant. I haven’t had a period in two months going on three now. Should I start taking hormone balance supplements? To regulate my periods Or can I get pregnant without a menstrual cycle??

  13. Annette says:

    Good to know what to expect if I don’t go for my next injection in 2 days time. I have been on this method for a year now and experience severe knee joint pain. I’ be decided not to take it any longer due to chest pains. enjoyed your contributions.

  14. Hayley says:

    Hi I was on the depo for 2 and a half years and I am 18 years old now I was due my next shot 2 weeks ago but have decided to stop it as it has caused wait gain and loss of sex drive. I’ve already came on my period but suffered from a severe migraine two days ago to the point I nearly went to hospital and feeling sick and sensitive. Is this the side affects from stopping the injection or from my periods coming back straight away?

  15. Amanda says:

    Hi! 21 years of age. I was on the depo for 1 full year, this was my second go-around. I chose this method because it’s easily delivered into your system and protects you fully against unwanted pregnancy. However, like many others have pointed out, there was a great loss of sex drive (which is unfortunately ironic) and a slew of other cons.

    I chose to stop after my last shot because every time I got it, I would go through a day or two of uncontrollable emotion, and my S/O & I were both becoming discouraged with my lack of sexual interest. In addition to that, I spotted for the entire year, except for the week before my shot was due. Once I received the shot again, the spotting would start up (which only worsened my desire for intercourse). I never thought I would miss menstruating. And PMSing – I felt kind of lifeless without my hormones.

    I am one week off of the depo, a day or two after my shot was due I got my period full-blown. I have cramps that feel like they’re trying to make up for a year of absence and I have resorted to tampons because the bleeding is heavy enough now. My breasts are swollen and painful but I’d rather be feeling ALL of this than have to go back on the shot. It really screws with you.

    Back to good ol’ condoms, PMS and a week of brownies, milkshakes and Netflix :)

  16. JAW says:

    Hi. I have never wrote on one of these things in my entire life because I always thought they would result in no accurate answers. But I’ve been concerned lately because of what everyone is saying about multiple birth control methods and I’m concerned about my future. This post may be a little long but I feel as if it might help some people and perhaps help me so I hope some of you will take time to read or reply. So if anyone can help me that would be great. I’m 17 years old. I started my period when I was 11. By the time I was 12 years old I went to the doctor and they diagnosed me with polycistic ovarian syndrome. And to control that they put me on the depo shot. I was on that for about 4 years. While on it I did not have even one period and gained a total of almost 50 pounds along with other side effects. I became concerned about continuing taking it because of other women who said they had fertility problems after taking it. So I went to my gynecologist for options. My last depo shot was about 9 months ago and I got the implant (implanon) about 6 months ago. The first few months of the implant were good, because It didn’t give me weight gain or barely any other side effect, I actually lost about 30 pounds. But about a month and a half ago I started to experience bleeding after sex then brown blood (which is usually blood that has been in the cervix longer and is considered “old”) and now for the past month I have bled every single day. And today i experienced black blood. I’ve grown quite concerned. Also I have been doing research on PCOS and turns out that I might not even have it because I never got proper testing and never had any signs of symptoms (such as acne, extra hair growth In strange spots, obesity/being overweight and my periods were never that irregular or long and I had only started my period a year before). Now I’m concerned that I might have got put on the depo for a reason that doesn’t even exist.

  17. JAW says:

    Hi. I have never wrote on one of these things in my entire life because I always thought they would result in no accurate answers. But I’ve been concerned lately because of what everyone is saying about multiple birth control methods and I’m concerned about my future. This post may be a little long but I feel as if it might help some people and perhaps help me so I hope some of you will take time to read or reply. So if anyone can help me that would be great. I’m 17 years old. I started my period when I was 11. By the time I was 12 years old I went to the doctor and they diagnosed me with polycistic ovarian syndrome. And to control that they put me on the depo shot. I was on that for about 4 years. While on it I did not have even one period and gained a total of almost 50 pounds along with other side effects. I became concerned about continuing taking it because of other women who said they had fertility problems after taking it. So I went to my gynecologist for options. My last depo shot was about 9 months ago and I got the implant (implanon) about 6 months ago. The first few month of the implant were good, because It didn’t give me weight gain or barely any other side effect, I actually lost about 30 pounds these last 6 months. Then about 2 months into having it in I started having horrible anxiety to the point i would throw up, I was irritable, and I had horrible pains behind my eyes along with insomnia. Then about a month and a half ago I started to experience bleeding after sex then brown blood (which is usually blood that has been in the cervix longer and is considered “old”) and now for the past month I have bled every single day. And today i experienced black blood. I’ve grown quite concerned. Also I have been doing research on PCOS and turns out that I might not even have it because I never got proper testing and never had any signs of symptoms (such as acne, extra hair growth In strange spots, obesity/being overweight and my periods were never that irregular or long and I had only started my period a year before). Now I’m concerned that I might have got put on the depo for a reason that doesn’t even exist. I am not ready for children yet of corse. But in the future I definitely want a beautiful piece of life that is both a part of me and my husband. So now I’m very worried that the depo might have made me not be able to conceive or worse have a miscarriage. I’m going to my doctor tomorrow to have my impalnon taken out and talk to her about all this. It’s really frustrating and I need help.

    • Kayla says:

      Definitely talk to your gynecologist. Ask them to do the proper testing, and talk to them about your period. I’m shocked that they would put you on Depo so young- my doctor refused when I was 19 because she said I was too young.. Your bones aren’t finished developing and it can strip you of calcium. (So make sure you take supplements along with vitamin D!)
      It’s true that Depo can decrease your ability to conceive, but if you look up other birth controls, they can cause the same things, or at least the pill I was on in my teens.
      With a lot of people it’s just because it takes so long to get out of your system, that if they want to have kids it could
      What my doctor told me about the insane periods are that your hormones are fighting for control. I’m guessing that because you were on Depo for so long and so early that your body probably became dependent on the hormone injection that your body is just trying to figure out how to make everything balance.
      I’m by no means an expert, but this is what I’ve found and heard from my doctor.
      If I were you, I would bring up EVERY concern I have about coming off the shot and everything, and make sure you are properly tested.. My roommate has PCOS and she was given Metphormin (a diabetic medication, because PCOS can be caused by high insulin levels, she’s not diabetic as she has the best even blood sugar that her doctor has seen) as well as birth control pills, not Depo. She hadn’t had her period in over 5 years from her PCOS, and she only has it now because I’ve thrown her off track coming off the shot.

      Good luck!

  18. kasandra says:

    ok so i been with out depo shot for 3 months then i started having big pain in my breast and i can feel some type of balls which hurt alooot i have them in both of them and they are reaaaly sensative .. does any of you experience the same ??

  19. Tiffany says:

    Hello, I’m Tiffany and I am 24yrs old. I have been on the Depo shot twice. My first time was when I was 18. I never really notice much side effects from coming off of it other than my breast being sore the week before my period. I always that it was part of my cycle then. I recently got back on Depo because I was familiar with it and never had anything wrong. Well this time around was a different story. I got the shot in October of last year and was suppose to get my next shot in January. I didn’t go back for it for one because me and my husband want to start a family and two because I started my period in November and it was very much irregular. I never stopped bleeding it felt. After I got off the excess bleeding substanced but my periods have been lasting almost two weeks and now I’m still bleeding a little. I don’t like this and just want it to go away. I want to be normal again. I eat healthy and workout everyday. Can someone please help? Should I try hormone supplements? Thank you all.

  20. debbie says:

    can someone help iam 50 years old menopausal woman? i was on the dep shot for 10 plus years my last shot was 8 months ago with no real problems now i had 3 heavy flow periods 1 week apart back to back and stabbing pain on right side ovary area can you help with information debbie

  21. Brandy says:

    Iiiiii chiii no more for me!!!

  22. Chrissy says:

    I have been on depo for about 10 years now I think. Kind of lost track. Been many years since I’ve missed it. Dr. recommend I take 1200 mg of calcium a day. I’m worried about bone loss more than anything since my mom has osteoporosis and she had been on depo but was never told about taking calcium or bone loss. She also has other factors that contribute to bone loss. I am 31 and now choose to be single and I have been debating if I should stay on depo. I love it because of not having a period and it greatly reduces pms cramps. Some times my breasts do feel just a little sensitive when it gets close to the next injection but the sensitivity is so mild I only notice it when I do an exercise that presses my breasts down alot. It definitely took away my sex drive and made sex very unenjoyable. I feel like I do not even need any physical contact while on depo. If it is safe, I would like to stay on it til I get close to menopause. Hope they do some more research on the long term effects. Not sure what will happen when I stop.

  23. Morgan says:

    I had gotten my depo shot in January and I’m due for one next month on April 6th. Is it normal that my period came back so soon? I thought it was just spotting here and there but now it’s normal and not as bad as it has been before the depo… My periods had stopped til just yesterday.. So I’m hoping its normal til I can get my next shot

  24. Elise says:

    Hi, I am 24 years old and have been on Depo for the past two years. The reason I was put on the shot was PCOS, diagnosed by ultrasound. At the time, my only symptom was multiple cysts on each ovary that were causing severe cramping throughout my increasingly erratic and unpredictable (in length, heaviness, and severity of PMS) monthly cycles. Prior to Depo, I had always maintained a healthy weight with enviably clear skin and thick hair. Since Depo, I have gained 40 lbs, now have cystic acne all over my body and face, and am losing my hair. My doctor has performed multiple blood tests for insulin resistance and excess androgens; however, these hormones remain in a normal range. In recent months, I have had continuous spotting after an immediate and complete cessation of menstruation since my first shot. I no longer have ovarian cysts, but now have recurrent endometrial polyps. Despite these alarming recent changes, my doctor wants me to stay on Depo with no changes in treatment! I’m not sure that’s a good idea, but I am scared my ovarian cysts and painful periods will return if I go off. I have sought numerous physician opinions, and have been given alternatives: IUD, oral contraceptives, or estrogen pills in adjunct to the Depo. But in each case, I was warned that any change could trigger recurrent cysts and further worsening of PCOS symptoms. What no doctor has answered for me is: Which option is best? Or even, does it really matter, and should I be pursuing a treatment like Metformin for current symptom relief (overweight, acne, thinning hair, endometrial changes) even though my glucose, insulin, and androgens are considered normal? I am grateful that Depo got rid of my cysts, but am saddened and frustrated that it has seemed to hasten the onset of other PCOS symptoms.

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Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.