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.


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

  1. Katelynne says:

    Hi. I started depo provera when I was 16. Was on it for two years and then stopped. I never gained weight on it but when I stopped taking it I gained 50-60 lbs. My last shot was june or july of 2013. Since then I have had a total of 3 periods. I went to an OBGYN for severe breast pain and she told me it was my body getting rid of depo. She put my on the pill to help out but it has only made things worse. I had been on my period for almost two weeks when I went to the OBGYN but the entire time it was spotting only. Started the pill that Sunday. I am still on my period. Going on 4 weeks now. My cramping is really bad that Midol doesn’t even relieve the pain. My bleeding has been pretty heavy this last week or so. Should I stop taking the pill and let the depo work its way out of me naturally or will it benefit me to tough out the pain and bleeding and keep taking the pill?

  2. Tjie says:

    Have been on Depo for 26 years straight, am now 47, I was so thrilled with it there was no coming off until this year, living & working in a remote place in an African country, there was no shot available and no chance of it either. It’s been nearly two months and I’m practically off my rocker. My breasts are tender and swollen (one noticeably more than the other), I’m on the verge of tears permanently, irritable, constantly exhausted…. I can only put this down to side-effects of coming off the Depo. I started googling the side effects out of frustration – so glad to have found this site. But will this nightmare ever stop? Help!!!

  3. leah says:

    I got on depo in january . My next appoinment was in april , but I missed it . During those 3 months & even now I still dont have a period . Ive had sex twice in june & I bled slighty after not . Not like a period though , it was brownish . Sometimes I have pregnancy like syptoms but I dont know .. could it be just my period trying to come back ?

  4. Darlene says:

    I was on depo for 1 year, July 2012 – July 2013. I normally just took the pill, but thought it would be nice to not have to remember it.
    The hubs and I decided we wanted to start trying and after July 2013 i no longer received the shot. I got my period back in November. It was very irregular. the cycle length only became longer. I had a period in Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb, and then it stopped. This was disheartening as i thought i was pregnant. I was not. So now it has been 6 months.
    I am grateful i found this site, as other blogs don’t really have anyone going through the same frustrations. I don’t get why my periods stopped again.
    Has this happened to anyone else?

  5. amber says:

    I’m on the depo shot and it makes me feel not myself I’m moody and i feel bllloated and i will never take it again and when u come off the shot u will feel like ur going to puke headaches etc.

  6. Cassie Aalderink says:

    Hi I recently posted and have figured out how to control the terrible feeling of coming off the depo eating magnesium like green veggies or nuts helps lower the extra estrogen in your body and taking a tumeric pill huggers your progeston levels the reason why people gain weight is because your hormones are not balanced ive noticed it helps a ton with the sickness and the sore breasts and im back to my normal weight haven’t got my period yetbut it has helped with all the other bologna hope this helps

  7. Heather says:

    I took my first shot in April of this year. My fiancé and I decided to try for a baby so I didn’t go back for the one in July. The past 3-4 weeks I’ve had swollen/sore breasts. Sometimes to the point of crying. No period. I took a pregnancy test a few days ago and it was negative. Is this normal after only getting one shot? Thanks.

  8. kaylie says:

    Hi I was on depo for 2 years missed my last shot 5th june this yr and I have had four bleeds since stopping still not sure if there periods or if im ovulating help x

  9. shay says:

    I been off depo since Dec 2013 I wasn’t bleeding at first maybe just a little spotting here and there. Nows it 7 months later nd I’ve been bleeding for 2 months straight!!.and I don’t know what to do but its frustrating, and anoyying!

  10. Naijwa says:

    I need new breasts. Seriously! They hurt so badly I don’t even wanna take the stairs anywhere. I took the shot in late May for the first time. I hated it! My urine began to smell, I bled for three+ weeks, I was moody, and cramping. I decided not to get another shot and now I’ve gained weight, I’m crazy bloated, nauseous, emotional, and the breast pain is unbearable. Ugh! Never again.

  11. Sarah says:

    I started Drop after the birth of my 1st child, when I was 20. I had no bad side effects. Actually, the best was not having a cycle start until a few days before I was due for my shot. At age 25, I missed 1 shot & immediately became pregnant. Resumed the shot after I gave birth. I’m 36 now & stopped getting it cuz I was informed about the side effects to my bones etc & was told from another OBGYN that it’s not recommended for that long of use. Since stopping Drop my breasts are tender & swollen, I have cramps & before I never did, & my periods are so heavy & lasting almost 2 wks with severe cramping that I’m thinking of getting back on the shot.

  12. Samantha says:

    Hi, I began my first shot for Depo in February of 2014 and I did not go back for my second shot in May because of my terrible side effects. I bled three straight months from February till May and often had horrible cramps. It’s now August and after only one shot of the Depo I’ve been continuously bleeding for 6 months straight. It’s become such a hassle , also recieving rashes for wearing pads day in and day out. Can anyone help with any information as to when this can completely wear off my body?

    • Amanda Ajdari says:

      I got 2 shots starting last August. It has taken my body 9 months to stop bleeding. I finally feel like my body is getting back to normal. I bled so bad I got anemic. I don’t know if that’s the case for you but if you are anemic I recommend taking an iron pill everyday. Hope this helps and good luck!

  13. Emily says:

    Started depo when I was 13 years old. I was on depo for 5 years. I was always a size 9 in jeans. I went up to a size 17. I always felt like my bladder hurt. I finally quit my depo, started losing so much weight 10 lbs in a week and a half. I ended up losing 73lbs altogether. I didn’t do anything to purposely lose it. Been feeling sick for 2 years now, nauseated to the point my life is hardly enjoyable. My periods are still off (20 days late) PPH told me I could be on depo for as long as i wanted. FDA website says no more than 2 years. Please, I strongly advise against depo.

  14. Bre says:

    I was put on the depo shot when I got my period, I only had my period for 2 months then was put on the shot, I was 15. Just got off of it January 6th of this year. Still no period, not even spotting. Sharp pains in my pelvic region, tenderness of my boobs, I have had intercourse and after I bled but not like a period bleeding, more like a dark brown reddish color. I’m afraid I’m infertile..

  15. tracy says:

    I am ninteen i started depo when i was eighteen ive been off it for almost six months now i havent had a period at all but i do bleed sometimes not alot but enuff to notice and some times its a brownish color my boobs hurt all the time i have horrible pains in my lower stomach alot i just dont know what to do

  16. Serena says:

    When I first got the depo shot, the first two doses I’ve had my period non stop, when I got the third dose I stopped getting my period all together (which is what I wanted), after a few more doses I had a blood clot scare so I got off the shot, I have now had my period for three months straight, the period cramps are different now to, they feel like really bad shooting pains, I get them in my pelvic area and the spot where I got the shot.

  17. Leela says:

    I really wish my doctor would have talked to me about this before I went on Depo. In fact, I was not even told that it could take up to two years after going off Depo to become pregnant until i went in for my second shot. I decided to go off of it last month and my boobs hurt so bad that I am not comfortably wearing a bra but being that I have to when I go out and go to work, I am in constant pain and severely uncomfortable. I thought my period would return a few months after going off but it has not. Even though I have had symptoms like cramps, mood swings and sore breast. I was planing on getting pregnant in the next couple years, I hope that this didn’t ruin that dream from happening. Any words of encouragement from someone who has returned back to normal? and was able to get pregnant?

  18. Chantel says:

    Hey ladies, I was on depo for 8 years only side effect I had was weight gain. It worked really well with my body for the most part. I decided to get off depo in February of 2014 and try a IUD called skyla. About two months after stopping depo and immediately getting on skyla my face started breaking out extremely bad. I went to a dermatologist and she put me a hormonial medication I took for 2 months and it only made it worse. I was wondering if any of you ladies have experienced acne during or even after being on depo?

  19. Bidget says:

    I was on the depo shot for 2 years. Never had a period while on it but spotted twice after I got off in Jan. I have been off for 8 months and now I recently started bleeding. Its not heavy but the cramps are bad. I sometimes feel bloated, tired, and my breasts stay sore. I lost weight then gained weight and I feel as if I’m pregnant but I am not due to I have taken plenty of tests. I suggest you not to get on depo, it is a nightmare!

  20. Katrina says:

    Hi, depo user for 2yrs also. As that’s how long they suggest you to use it. Without the side effect of bone loss, I wish I could use it forever. I had no adverse effects while using it, only a slight gain in weight. But was manageable when determined to loose the weight. So overall, it worked pretty well for me. But now I’m off it for about 4mos, it’s been uneasy as I dont want to get pregnant yet. Terrible mood swings, unsatiable appetite, and no period only severe cramping & slight brownish spotting. My ob, who administered the drug, doesnt know a thing about my symptoms. Shouldn’t they know all the ins & outs of this drug?

  21. Noel says:

    I have been on depo provera for 11 years. This week I was due for my next shot but am going to stop. I always felt a little strange in the few days prior to being due for an injection. Now that it has been a few days past that, I feel even more ‘off’. I’ve barely slept in three days, am extremely emotional and easily confused, getting hot flashes and dizzy spells, and am quite concerned about how long people have mentioned it takes for the drug to leave your system. If I’ve only just started coming off of it this week and I feel this terrible, it is quite possible the next year to year and a half will suck. I’m hoping the severity of these symptoms have something to do with the lack of sleep but I lay there and just can’t seem to close my eyes. I’m sure I’ll get there. Here’s to hoping I do get to sleep and maybe even wake up 20 pounds lighter when my hormone levels are normal!

  22. Naijwa Lewis says:

    Abdominal pain kicking in now. Been feeling it for the past week. It hurts so badly! Feels like really bad menstrual cramps but without bleeding. I regret the day I ever got on this shot. The side effects aren’t worth it. Ladies please do your research before you take anything.

  23. Ashley says:

    Hi, I was on the depo for only 6 months and never got a period and thought it was great then around 4 1/2 months I started getting really bad migraines the happens about 3 times a week then about 2 weeks later I was getting the migraines about 2 times a day!! I went to my primary and had severely tests done because the migraines were so bad I couldn’t function enough to Take care of my kids and work. All my test results came back normal so then my doctor started looking in to more things and found out it’s very rare but the depo was what giving me the migraines and sure enough it was!!! I was suppose to get my next shot last month in the 15 but I didn’t and about 2 weeks later my migraines started to become less mild and be more like a headache!! But as soon as that happened my breast became so tender I cried trying to put my bra on! About a week after that I started spotting And have become tierd and emotional/irritable. About a week and a half later my period became very heavy to the point I’m using pads and tampons and changing them about every 45mins. I started craving hamburgers really bad and just thought it was a craving due to my period but my doctor ran more blood test and found out I had become severely anemic and put me in the hospital for a few days and sent me home with a prescription high dosage of iron. As of right now I still have a very heavy period and am still emotional/ irritable And tierd and tender breast!!

  24. meryl says:

    Hi guys why after ceasing depo use i never have my cycle until now. Actually i starting using depo from december2013 then stop June2014 due to my hoghblood pressure…is this normal?

  25. .. says:

    Hey i went on the depo last October got my second jab in January and didn’t go back for my 3rd in April. I have bleed once for half a week and had nothing since, but am getting all the signs of been pregnant but took a test and came back negative. It is now august and i just wont to know when it will all stop and go back to normal?

  26. Cat says:

    I’m having the same thing happen to me. Let me know if you have any answers to why it’s happening this way.

  27. Lindsey says:

    I started getting the shot in March of this year, I missed my last due shot a few days ago.. I’ve had a migraine for two days in a row now. I am miserable! I feel so sick. The whole time i was on the shot I felt unhappy and had constant mood swings.. Hoping this sickness will go away soon

  28. Taylor says:

    Hello, my symptoms have been a little bit different from anyone elses. I started depo Sept. Of 2011 and just got off this August of 2014. My cramps have been orgasm related, I would wake up in the middle of the night with an orgasm (for no reason) then severe bleeding and cramping right after to the point I thought I was going to throw up or pass out. I get severe cramps before sex, during, but mostly after sex to the point that I don’t want to proceed anymore. Just recently I had an orgasm then got severe cramps and bled violently. I knew this couldn’t be normal so I had to get off.

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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.