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.

  

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

  1. chelsea says:

    i went on the depo at age 16 (2009) for excruciating period pains and i also got reqular cysts on my ovaries.
    my last shot was July 2013 since then i have only had 1 bleed which was june 2014.
    so it has been over a year and i am still very emotional, i have sore breasts regularly, i have gained weight only a few kilos, also i am getting pimples more often.
    i do get pains around the same time some months. but it has been over a year now and still my body has not gone back to the way it was?

  2. Tori says:

    I got the depo right after having my baby and bled for maybe 2 or 3 months straight then got the shot again and stopped and had my last shot in February and decided to get off of it and go to the pill and when I started the pill I had 2 periods those two months of being off the depo then completely stopped having a period and I haven’t had one since!! I have stomach pains too like cramps a lot and head aches and back aches and can’t sleep at night at all

  3. Nat says:

    Hi guys, I’m 24 years old and was on the depo shot for almost exactly 4 yrs. I was put on it because my docs told me that it was the best birth control if you smoke cigarettes. I have barely been sexually active for 2 years now, but no one said anything. I quit smoking cigarettes finally a month and a half ago so I decided to cancel my shot appt 16 days ago. the receptionist told me “good for you” when i did. i also work in a naturopathic doctors office and it was not sugarcoated how hard this would be.
    I have crazy insomnia at night. when i do sleep its when the sun rises till 10-11am, so no real rest ever. no bleeding, but intense lower back/front pain. i consider it a miracle when i’m not crying. i do not want to take more drugs to cover up these drugs side effects, and i am taking supplements to help. i am disciplined on the food/weight gain so far, i have actually lost weight after quitting cigarettes/adderall/depo etc. but mostly because i’m too busy crying. i was a sensitive person without this..very sensitive…i’m glad there’s a community at least reading the comments in that i’m not alone. i’ve been very depressed before but this is the worst because i can tell its not me! thats what i keep having to remind myself to not take it personal and that this isn’t my fault…thats a full time job though now to control this craziness

    • kenya says:

      I’ve been off depo for a while now like a couple years now I was 16 when I first got it stop taking it at18 and now I’m 22 my period comes when it wants I still have sore breast moody and I can’t sleep like right now its 3:48 am I’m tired but I just can’t seem to go to sleep

  4. .. says:

    IM feeling that exactly the same.. I have a partner of 3 yrs got on the jab after an abortion as i wasn’t fit to be a parent as i loved smoking pot, ciggys. Only had 2 shots. My score breast and back pain and feeling sick has finally gone and i bleed for 7 days not normal for me and now im pushing my partner away and i don’t know why as i love him and we plan to get married, i don’t ever feel like intercourse, the littlest things make me angry and once im angry i cant seem to stop been angry even though im over it and its only small. I have been depressed for many years it all went away when i meet my partner,but after 2 abortions started coming back and now this jab is really messing with me cant leave the house i dnt knw why anyone know any good meds that will stop this all? IM only 19 and cant get a job or do anything i just wnt to stay home..

  5. Britt23 says:

    I was on the depo for not even a whole year…. I decided to get off BC it was making my body go through different changes and idk if anybody else had this but ( I know this sound disgusting but hey I have to get it out) my virgina was not getting wet at all before we would have sex it was horrible and I was looking and i saw some post where some ppl was saying they got their period back 6 months but I got my back exactly the sometime I was suppose to get my shot so I am confused is this my period r just bleeding from not getting the shot and i was having pregnant like symptoms so is it my period or a reaction from the shot I don’t want to bleed for months ughhh

    • Noah-Lee says:

      Yaasss.. Iwasnt getting wet either!! But that only lasted for the first round.. Now I’m 5months off depo & ive had 2 regular periods.

  6. krystal says:

    I have been on the shot since 2006 and have decided to get off it. I did have a period in 2009 but it was short because the pill made me gain excessive weight that the depo immediately took off. My sex drive had decreased to 0 over the last couple years and is affecting my relationship terribly. After reading some comments on the effects of getting off the shot, I am scared! I am not concerned about the baby making, I do have an 8 year old. I am more concerned about the effects on my body. I do suffer from extreme stress levels, blood pressure issues (caused from stress), insomnia, fatigue and the list continues. Basically, I’m a hot mess. Any advice!

  7. emma says:

    Hey. I’ve been off my depo couple of months not bled yet got told to go on the pill to help bring bleeding along but not worked.. I now feel really depressed and anxious and could cry at anything. . I hate feeling like this cos I’m taking it out on everyone I love :( I was on the shot 3 years.. wish I never touched it!!

  8. cari says:

    I’ve been on depo for almost 4 years. We have decided it’s time for a baby. I didn’t know coming off the shot would be so awful! Only one of my breast ìs extremely swollen and painful. I have been really emotional. The breast issue has concerned me. I have been stressing praying that the swelling and pain is just hormones. After i stopped my doc gave me Provera (progesterone). This did not help at all. He said the Provera will force me to have a period. Been over a month and still no period. I need help. How can i go back to normal? I’m stressing out everyday and scared i can’t have children.

  9. Kayla says:

    I took the first shot of depo and was on my period for three months straight. I decided not to take it and It’s been a month but I’m bleeding everyday and my stomach hurts so bad and I puke every day. I don’t know what could be the cause. I’m so worried about it.

  10. Nattasha says:

    Hi Ladies,
    Like many women out there I decided to take the depo shot. Unkike many I didn’t have problems with my periods, stupidly I took the shot because I am lousy with pills. That was 4 years ago, I had one shot and never had another. My periods disappeared for 2 years, I gained weight, cramping, face stained (melasma), my hairhas continuously fallen out so much so that I had to cut it short after my operation to remove a cyst. I am a living nightmare and I feel constantly on edge. How can this injection be legal? I am from the UK and I wasn’t given any serious/rare side effects of this injection. I feel helpless!!!

  11. Nattasha says:

    Hi Ladies,
    Like many women out there I decided to take the depo shot. Unkike many I didn’t have problems with my periods, stupidly I took the shot because I am lousy with pills. That was 4 years ago, I had one shot and never had another. My periods disappeared for 2 years, I gained weight, cramping, face stained (melasma), my hair has continuously fallen out so much so that I had to cut it short after my operation to remove a cyst. I am a living nightmare and I feel constantly on edge. How can this injection be legal? I am from the UK and I wasn’t given any serious/rare side effects of this injection. I feel helpless!!!

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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.