Progestin-only contraceptives: Effects on weight

Laureen M. Lopez, Alison Edelman, Mario Chen, Conrad Otterness, James Trussell, Frans M. Helmerhorst

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Background: Progestin-only contraceptives (POCs) are appropriate for many women who cannot or should not take estrogen. 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: Through May 2013, we searched MEDLINE, CENTRAL, POPLINE, LILACS,, and ICTRP. The 2010 search also included EMBASE. For the initial review, we contacted investigators to identify other trials. Selection criteria: All comparative studies were eligible 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. We computed the mean difference (MD) with 95% confidence interval (CI) for continuous variables. For dichotomous outcomes, the Mantel-Haenszel odds ratio (OR) with 95% CI was calculated. Main results: We found 16 studies; one examined progestin-only pills, one studied the levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system (LNG-IUS), four examined an implant, and 10 focused on depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA). Outcomes examined were changes in body weight only (14 studies), changes in both body weight and body composition (1 study), and changes in body composition only (1 study). We did not conduct meta-analysis due to the various contraceptive methods and weight change measures. Comparison groups did not differ significantly for weight change in 12 studies. However, three studies showed weight change differences for POC users compared to women not using a hormonal method. In one study, weight gain (kg) was greater for the DMPA group than the group using a non-hormonal IUD in years one through three [(MD 2.28; 95% CI 1.79 to 2.77), (MD 2.71, 95% CI 2.12 to 3.30), and (MD 3.17; 95% CI 2.51 to 3.83), respectively]. The differences were notable within the normal weight and overweight subgroups. Two implant studies also showed differences in weight change. The implant group (six-capsule) had greater weight gain (kg) compared to the group using a non-hormonal IUD in both studies [(MD 0.47 (95% CI 0.29 to 0.65); (MD 1.10; 95% CI 0.36 to 1.84)]. In one of those studies, the implant group also had greater weight gain than a group using a barrier method or no contraceptive (MD 0.74; 95% CI 0.52 to 0.96). The two studies that assessed body composition change showed differences between POC users and women not using a hormonal method. Adolescents using DMPA had a greater increase in body fat (%) compared to 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). The other study reported differences between an LNG-IUS group and a non-hormonal IUD group in percent change in body fat mass (2.5% versus -1.3%, respectively; reported P value = 0.029) and percent change in lean body mass (-1.4% versus 1.0%, respectively; reported P value = 0.027). Authors' conclusions: The overall quality of evidence was moderate to low, given that the studies were evenly divided across the evidence quality groups (high, moderate, low, or very low quality). We found limited evidence of weight gain when using POCs. Mean gain was less than 2 kg for most studies up to 12 months. Weight change for the POC group generally did not differ significantly from that of the comparison group using another contraceptive. Two studies that assessed body composition showed that POC users had greater increases in body fat and decreases in lean body mass compared to users of non-hormonal methods. Appropriate counseling about typical weight gain may help reduce discontinuation of contraceptives due to perceptions of weight gain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberCD008815
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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