Q: Is Norplant safe for teen-agers? How does it work? I have trouble remembering to take my birth control pills.
A: Studies of Norplant use by teen-agers are just getting under way, but the information we have available suggests it should be safe for them. Norplant consists of six slender progesterone-containing rods that are inserted under the skin of the upper arm during a minor surgical procedure. The person inserting the rods has only to make a tiny incision in the skin with a small amount of local anesthetic. The procedure takes about 10 minutes and once the rods are inserted, they are usually not visible to anyone (unless the woman is very thin). The rods release a steady amount of progesterone (a female hormone) into the blood. This steady release of progesterone prevents the ovary from producing an egg or thickens the cervical mucus so the egg -- if produced -- cannot be fertilized. This protection lasts for five years. Overall, Norplant is more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.
There are some side effects that you should know about. Norplant can cause increased acne, mood swings and weight gain. Most women have extra bleeding between menstrual periods while others may have fewer periods.
If you think Norplant sounds right for you, you should make an appointment with your health care provider for a fuller discussion. One important point: Norplant will not protect you against sexually transmitted diseases, and it will not protect you from getting infected with the AIDS virus. Even if you choose Norplant, you should use a condom every time you have sex.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.