Questions Remain about Effects of Stopping Depo-Provera

By Rachel Walden |

Our 2009 post on side effects of stopping the injectable birth control Depo-Provera (depot medroxyprogesterone acetate, or DMPA) continues to generate important discussion — more than 100 women have shared their stories of adverse effects after stopping the drug.

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. Frustratingly, there is really not much new on the topic in the 2 1/2 years since we first posted on this. There don’t appear to be ongoing or upcoming studies on the concerns we’ve heard, either. A few studies here and there report some effects, like how long it took for menstruation to return, how long periods lasted, and how long it took to become pregnant after stopping.

Most of the existing research on women who stop using Depo-Provera seems to focus on bone mineral density. The drug comes with a “black box” warning that it may cause significant bone density losses, although research suggests that it’s possible that these losses may be made up after women stop taking the drug. The Society for Adolescent Medicine has said that “The data from all of these studies [of bone density in adolescent users] are encouraging, although it is unknown whether girls ultimately achieved the same peak bone mass as they would have in the absence of DMPA.” They also suggest that the advantages of preventing pregnancy may outweigh the risk for bone loss, but that patients should be informed of the potential for bone loss. Because of this concern, though, research on what happens when women stop using this birth control method tends to focus on understanding changes in their bone density.

Studies of “discontinuation” of birth control methods also tend to focus on the side effects of taking a drug and the reasons women stop using them, rather than what happens – aside from pregnancies – after they make that decision. It is thought that about half of women who quit Depo in order to get pregnant are able to do so by 10 months later, but that some women have longer waits before they are fertile. According to the drug label, “it is expected that 68% of women who do become pregnant may conceive within 12 months, 83% may conceive within 15 months, and 93% may conceive within 18 months from the last injection.” It also notes, though, that almost 40% of who discontinued the drug to become pregnant could not be followed up on, so they are not represented in those percentages.

What would you like to know about stopping Depo-Provera? What should researchers be examining? If you would like to share your own story of stopping Depo, please add them to the previous post.

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28 Comments

  1. Rachel, thanks for writing a follow-up post to your November 2009 post about the challenges women are facing coming off Depo-Provera. It was brought to my attention on re: Cycling, the blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research in a post last weekend : http://menstruationresearch.org/2012/03/31/weekend-links-44/

    I write monthly for re: Cycling and am working on a series about coming off hormonal contraception and the many issues involved. Women’s comments at your original post inspired my most recent post:
    http://menstruationresearch.org/2012/04/04/coming-off-hormonal-contraception-is-depo-provera-different/#comments

    I support your call for more research into women’s experiences coming off not just Depo-Provera, but all hormonal contraceptives. We also need to do more to help women who stop using hormonal methods transition to healthy ovulatory cycles and effective, confident use of non-hormonal birth control methods.

    Laura Wershler
    @laurawershler

  2. callie says:

    I have noticed Quite a few women have been experiencing the side effects of depo such as bone loss and brittle teeth. I have too its time we all get together and start a class action law suite and get this product off the market it is very dangerous and you don’t suffer the side effects until after you stop the drug. Please contact me if you too have these problems I have already contacted a lawyer about a class action. If you can be a part of it please do!! calliemorgan28@gmail.com

  3. Julia says:

    I was on Depo in 1997-1999 and had no problems with it (I was 17 years old at the time of starting it). It did take almost a full year for my periods to return, and I was able to get pregnant in 2000…

    However, I went back on Depo in January 2013, not as a birth control but to help reduce (or eliminate) my periods because they were extremely heavy (and getting heavier by the month) and I was having horrible cramps. While the shot did eliminate the cramps and reduced the amount of blood I had during my periods, I have basically been on a continuous period since (it is now mid June). At first, they were 2 weeks long, with 2 weeks in between. However, in mid April I started and it was enough to wear regular tampons (the most I had since going back on the shot). That period lasted almost 5 weeks straight. I was barely off a week when I started again May 25th, and have been on it since (again today is June 18th). I was supposed to have had my 3rd injection yesterday but I am not going back on it. I am hoping that it is starting to leave my system as I have had some minor cramping the day before (I haven’t had cramps since being on the shot) and I seem to be getting heavier (not heavy, but more like a normal period). I don’t know what changed since I was 17, but I certainly didn’t get much relief going on the shot! I can see why it is such a good birth control method, because I can’t have sex (well I could, but not my cup of tea)…I don’t recommend this to anyone, all the websites I’ve read have said it can take 6-12 months for my body to go back to normal. It was never normal to begin with.

  4. Sammy says:

    I started Depo in March 2009, and this last August (2013) I was to to get my shot again; but decided not to go in and get it.

    At the end of July of 2013 I had a very bad depressive episode; it was just a week before I was to get my shot in August. For a while now I have wondered if the depo shot has played with these episodes as every time I am about a week to get the shot something similar would happen- just this last one was bad- and am now finally taking that step to take care of me to see if it is.

    A Poster on the earlier article (Ashley) mentioned how she had similar symptoms as Bi-polar symptoms- I too would agree that was me.

    I even had a psychologist say that I was Bipolar2 in 2011- this while still on the shot. I had went in due to severe depression episodes, which stated in 2009 when my first shot was due. I remember the first time I was due for a shot, I just did not want to believe it was the Depo- no one else seemed to have these issues on Depo.. so it just was me right? I start to question that as I get older.

    Every 3rd month, when I was to get the shot I would have horrible mood swings and just be a mess; Which on the out side does appear to be “cycling” in a Bi-polar mood.

    However- Due to my family history with persons in my family dx’ed with Bipolar; every time I mentioned that I thought the Depo had some play in my depression and irritability and mood swings I was shrugged off and was told it was me- not Depo by doctors. Before depo- I did not cycle every 3 months, but on Depo I did- So I have to wonder how much the Depo does play with my mood swings.

    My last visit in May 2013 with my general doctor, she told me that the Depo “couldn’t” be the cause for any mood swings. And then she insisted that I get a women exam due to she was giving me hormone injections and that I could be putting her in a grey area for malpractice.

    She also wanted to put me on anti-depressants as well (which if I am bipolar would be a big no-no and she should know that being a doctor). I have refused her treatment as I don’t see her fit for the proper care in psychology; seeing she is a general doctor.

    I also totally disagree that “it couldn’t be the Depo” doing anything as I have been told over and over again when I bring it up; due to it is a hormonal injection, and hormones can play a lot with emotions and mood. but that is just my opinion.

    I find it odd that prior to receiving the Depo shot- I did not do this 3 month cycle of mood swings and how I would get while on the depo and needing to get the shot again.

    Right now it is September 2013, and it is not quite 3 months later but as of right now- I can honestly say that I do feel better off the shot right now. My Significant Other and I are paying attention, to see if on the 3rd or 4th month if I get like I did when it was shot time.

    I have also lost about 8 lbs- with just doing nothing but being me- But off the depo!

    Also if I could mention one more thing- which I do believe Depo played a part in, but I am not certain- But In 2010 I fell on the ice- I severely herniated 2 discs in my back. I had to have surgery due to they were so severe and that physical therapy would not help with getting the herniated disc back from pressing on my spine.

    That Whole Time with that ordeal- the Orthopedic Doctor and his team- Continuously said- At 24 years old; My Discs should not have done this, and there were no other issues that the could find that would contribute to what they did; “it was a mystery” why it happened.

    I will always wonder if the Depo Shot helped with making my discs more prone to being damaged; and now I have chunks missing out of two of them that may give me issues when I am older. No doubt the falling on the Ice was an impact- but at the same time I just have to wonder.

    I would had been a year or so into the Depo when this all happened.

    I just have to wonder some times… How much does this Depo shot play with these certain things; and I wish I did know more about the Depo. My First shots were in a Family Clinic that was for Low-Funded individuals. Absolutely nothing was told to me about the side effects; which is even more of an upsetting after I read some of them after I had been taking the shot for a while.

    Deep down in my gut- I think the Depo has contributed to a lot of things for me; and Now I will see if it did or not.. But thanks for letting me share my story here.

  5. Samantha says:

    I have been on depo since may of 2013 and after my second shot in August I developed severe anxiety along with numerous other issues suh as hot flashes, depression, insomnia, no appetite, no sex drive, lost about 15lbs in 2 weeks from the constant nervous feing in my stomach. A whole host of GI issues, including upper abdominal pain after eating, diarrhea ( non stop for 3 weeks after injection) our bodies recognize as foreign andtries to get rid of it. More recent I have developed breast pain in my left breast that radiates to my shoulder an my neck. It’s just been miserable. I am hoping once the 3 months is up I will go back to normal.

  6. Cynthia says:

    I feel the same exact way Samantha does. I felt that way on the shot and off it. I been off the depo ahot since May 3 2013. My last injection was Feb 2013. I did not go back in May to get it. It turned me into a complete different person. I’ve gotten the worst symptoms since being off: anxiety, I did get my period back which i got back at then end of july, nausea, headaches, dark brown discharge between my periods or before I’m fixing to start, insomnia when i do fall asleep I wake up so much throughout the night, bad pimple break outs before my period, constipation but when my period has started I use the bathroom pretty regularly, food craving or somedays i don’t even care to eat, sometimes I get backaches, my hair thinned on the side and in the back, and when I’m on my cycle I bleed pretty heavy. Mind you guys that I never had any of these symptoms until I got on the depo shot and stopped it.

    Since I’m off the depo now I feel my symptoms won’t ever stop. I just cope with them everyday. Somedays are better than others and how much I thank the lord for that. It’s been 5 months since being off that shot. I feel some improvement as far the night sweats and hot flashes stopping, but When will the other leave?

  7. Steph says:

    I got the depo shot in July 2013, did not go back in Oct when I was supposed too. I just had my period 2 1/2 weeks ago and about a week ago I started getting horrible cramps and my boobs are really sore. I have diarrhea almost every day (I did have my gallbladder removed a month ago, so maybe that’s why?) But, my depression has gotten a lot worse since stopping Depo. I have been going through a lot at home, but regardless my dr added Abilify to my anti-depressent. I did get my period today which is early? Anyway, just wanted to know if anyone else has experienced any of these symptoms after stopping the shot? I was on the shot about 10 years ago, but didn’t experience any of these. Thank you!

  8. kayley says:

    I started the depo January 2013 I have had endless problems since starting it, it started off with irregular bleeding , heavy bleeding , abnormal cramps so bad that I could not stand just curl up and cry, docs then prescribed me menfamnic acid which my body reacted to badly (docs insisted it was nothing to do with the shot yet I’ve never had a reaction to any medication) the irregular bleeding seemed to calm down after the second shot then I spotted 2 weeks before the shot which was bearable , I had a shot in July which I spotted straight after being jabbed (lasted a day) then in the August out of the blue I had immense pain and large clots l immediately went to see the doc and his only explanation was miscarriage I left the docs surgery a different woman, I was mortified as I was putting my body through this to stop pregnancy occurring . Anyway they suggested giving me the next shot early I had the shot and I’ve not been myself since, my last shot was due in December but both me and my partner agreed its not for me, since stopping the shot my back is in constant agony, I’m not keeping food down I’m constantly running to the toilet I’m a emotional wreck every joint hurts all I want to do is sleep this is effecting my home life a nd my work life it’s unbearable I used to be so happy! I’ve ordered angus castus tablets that people claim help get their body’s back to normal so here’s hoping it will bring back normality =)

  9. Cici says:

    I have been on the depo shot for about a year and a few months. I was supposed to return mid December for another shot but I decided not to return. After the stop use of the shot I have been feeling depressed, bad mood swings, I don’t care to eat at all, bad cramps, light brown discharge, and food cravings. I feel horrible I’ve done a lot of reading online and it seems a majority of women have experienced these side effects. On top of everything my bones always ache. I wonder how long will I experience these horrendous symptoms??

    • Jane says:

      I have been bleeding the whole time I’m on the depo shot. And a week before having to get the 2nd shot I have been bleeding heavy with large blood clot and vey bad cramping which had not stop. The only thing that help with pain is the narco pill. The doctor said that is normal to give it 2-3 months until my period comes back to normal. Also if the blood clot is the size of a peach then I need to come and see him. I don’t know if all this is normal but it sucks! Im planing on getting a second opinion.

  10. Tarah says:

    I have had alot of issues with depo. And like everyone here, I was unaware of the side effects after getting off of it. I started depo when I was 17. After seeing that being on it for longer than two years was not recommended, I went on the pill and that transition was fine.
    Until 2011 when visiting my doctor, knowing I have migraines with an aura, she recommended me going on either a really low dose of birth control or depo since I am at more of a risk for stroke. I decided on the depo because my period are pretty horrible and the low dose wouldn’t be enough to help that problem. I was warned to take calcium to make sure the bone density loss wasn’t an issue.
    My last shot was in August of 2013, because I know that within 2 years I would like to get pregnant. Unfortunately I still haven’t had my period yet. And it is June of 2014. I had horrible side effects for the first 6 months. I felt like I was losing my mind, being really mean and upset all the time. Super tired. I actually gained 30 pounds since being off of it. And that was just in the first 2 months.
    If I would have known more I would have NEVER gotten this shot. It was the worst mistake. I am due for my annual so hopefully we can find out why it is taking so long to get my periods back.
    The doctors don’t seem very knowledgeable on this and it just is really upsetting.

    • mickey says:

      I have been off of the Depo Provera shot for exactly 9 months today which is June 8th 2014 I was on it for a whole year after the birth of my daughter home is to now I was wondering how long it would take for my. To come back and it came on yesterday full blown without any warning bright red this is not spotting this is a full-fledged. I do hope that it stops within its normal time and not go on forever as I’ve been reading with a lot of other women I have never experienced. This heavy since before I started the shot I am finally starting to get over my depression but it is very hard to realize that it took this long for me to even get my ministration back but I stop the shot because I wanted to become pregnant with my husband we are newly weds and we would like a second child so I’m hoping that this is the start of a regular period cycle so I can become pregnant soon it’s just hell I hate the waiting game and as far as the mood swings and sex drive and things of that sets depo prevera is the worst when it comes to it I had absolutely no sex drive for the entire year of being on the Depo Provera shot it almost made me feel repulsed when my husband but touch me so if you are sexually active in you like it do not get on the shot lol another thing I never gained any weight but I did receive horrible need cramps and joint pain and back pain and really really bad headache with sensitivity to light while on the depo shot ladies this shot is horrible I will never go on it again I just would like to become pregnant very soon and 9 months later I am just receiving my period so we will see how this goes best of luck to all the ladies here

  11. s.Dana says:

    I got the shot back in February. I’ve always had a spot on cycle but since the shot I have been spotting continually. Now since I was due for a follow up in early May and decided against the shot my period has been bright and lasting for over 2weeks now I called my Dr he says its because I need another shot I’m confused what to do????

    • edna says:

      Dont get anouther shot im experiency bleeding every 2 weeks lastting 2 weeks at a time my advise dony get it if u do ul experience ssme thing posdibly worse I wish I never got thid shot ive been on 2 years and last monyh I quit

  12. Annalyn Rebecca Eisma says:

    i had my first and last shot of Depo Provera last year, weeks after I gave birth to my first child. I’m still studying and had a confused sched that’s why I didn’t get my next shot after it which was supposedly scheduled last August 2013. So, the nurse aid and health workers in the health center advised me to come back as soon as I have my menstruation back. My problem is, I haven’t had my period ever since I had it. I’m not scared that I will get pregnant because my husband and I have not had sex ever since I came off the Depo shot. My worry is, how could I have my fertility back? How can I have my period back?

  13. edna says:

    I am exsperiencing bleeding as well!! Last month I started bleeding a day befor I was suppose to get my depo shot buy I couldnt grt it becsude I was suppose to have a pap smrar done buy I bleed for 2 weeks strsight so I decided not to get do 17 days later its been over a week so far and im still bleeding again!! Ivr been on the depo gor 2 years now and finally quit!! Is this temporary??

  14. Rachel says:

    I’ve been on the shot since November of 2009. Since being on it I have gotten crazy anxiety migraines and body pains. Me and my husband decided we would like to try to have a baby. I was due for my shot June 30 2014 but did not go get it. The only symptom I’m having as of now is my breast are tender and swollen. I’m really nervous for what is to come for me. My Dr said it could take up to a year to be back to normal but she has never had anyone on it as long as me. So I’ve been reading alot on the depo with no real results and I have yet to find anything on how this shot effects you with prolong use. I’ve been on it for five years and am worried I won’t be able to get pregnant. Guess its a waiting game.

    • Gail says:

      Your bones are effected by the depo, Loads of post on netmums as you been on depo for a long time ask your nurse/doctor to send you for a test on your bones.

      Your dr seems quite stupid (no offense) as it is clearly stated on the paperwork about bones being effected with prolong use.

  15. Gail says:

    They should be focusing on people going dizzy, lightheaded and falling over.

    This was the side effect i had and it came on while in hospital for a referral for surgery. Now i am unsure if my surgery will take place at all. On top of this i was looking after my daughter in the day when having these spells and on 2 occasions about to fall over. I went to the park went down the slide with my daughter she got off, i stood up and fell straight forward. Currently i will not even go to the park or leave my property till i feel 100% as i know it can occur anywhere.

    Hope everybody gets together to get the research done as i making one hell of a serious complaint. GOOD LUCK!

  16. Rita Paaske says:

    I’ve Been Using Depo For 23Years, The Only Side Effect Was Weight Gain! I Want To Stop Taking It And I Want To Know What Changes My Body Will Be Going Thru?

    • brenda says:

      i’ve been on depo for almost 20 years, since it first came out, and i’m 40 now, hoping that i can quit and never see that red flow again. hard to find info to know for sure – but i am looking forward to the weight loss!!!

  17. brooke says:

    Although I did not stop the treatment in want /need to conceive a child I have indeed noted some abnormal changes. I do indeed have beat tenderness to the far sides ( outer armpit area) of my breasts and more discharge; but I have no way to be pregnant. And find it frustrating no website can tell me answers (although yours was the most helpful) if you could please e-mail when you know more. I would be very appreciative ~ Brooke age 20

  18. Julieth says:

    Hi my name is julieth and I have been using depo for a year, but I decided to stop, I got my appointment for April for my next shot but I didn’t go, so in January was my last shot. My period stopped completely since I started but it’s been 8 months since my last shot and I don’t get my period back, (I’m not pregnant neither). I would like to know if I should wait more time that maybe is normal just for a couple more months or if I need to see a doctor. I will appreciated your answer

  19. Elizabeth C. says:

    I have been using drop provera since I was 18 years old. Off and on only when active conceived 2 kids in the process but since finding it helped me with my migraines I stayed on it for 5 years straight taking it on time my period stopped completely after a year no spotting thinking I had window time of not being able to conceive since they say “the longer on depo, the harder to conceive”which is crap since I got pregnant 6 months later after stopping should of notice a warning sign of a couple spots of blood meant my period after 4 months off! Wen’t back on depo after I gave birth and been on it again for another 3 years and now stopped since we decided we want another..no side effects other than bad acne but only happens when I get off depo I break out but my face clears up when on depo, I have no side effects when on it all these years I’m now 27 and is dedicated to depo my doctors say there is no proven evidence of bone density crap they said if it was dangerous they would of taken it off the market..all other birth control sucked filled with side effects.depo is the best!