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Birth control pills have been linked to pseudotumor cerebri (PTC). This serious neurological condition causes increased pressure inside the skull, severe migraine headaches, and progressively worsening visual disturbances. Without treatment, PTC can cause blindness.

What is the problem?

Nexplanon is a matchstick-sized contraceptive implant that slowly releases the hormone etonogestrel (progestin). After it is implanted under the skin of the upper arm, Nexplanon helps prevent pregnancy for up to three years.

The problem is that certain contraceptive implants have been associated with an increased risk of pseudotumor cerebri (PTC). One study, published in 1995, linked 56 cases of PTC with implants containing levonorgestrel (progestin).

It is unknown if Nexplanon increases the risk of PTC or what causes the disease. However, health experts warn that birth control is a risk-factor. PTC is also more common in women than men.

What is Pseudotumor Cerebri?

Pseudotumor cerebri (PTC) is a type of brain injury that occurs when there is too much cerebrospinal fluid inside the skull. This condition, which means “false brain tumor,” puts pressure on the brain, optic nerve, and optic disc.

PTC can only be conclusively diagnosed with a spinal tap (lumbar puncture). Although mild cases can be treated with medications, severe cases may need to be treated with surgery to implant a shunt and drain fluid from the skull.

One of the most serious complications of PTC is papilloedema, in which pressure on the optic disc (located at the blind spot in the back of the eye) causes permanent nerve damage. This can cause double-vision, light sensitivity, blurry vision, and blindness.

PTC is also known as idiopathic intracranial hypertension.

Nexplanon and Headaches

Nexplanon significantly increases a woman’s risk of headaches, including migraines — 25% of women in clinical trials reported this side effect. Symptoms of a migraine include throbbing pain, light-sensitivity, nausea, and visual problems.

These symptoms mimic the symptoms of PTC. Experts warn that headaches from PTC are often dull, located at the back of the head, worst in the early morning or at night, and grow progressively worse until they are constant. They may also include vision problems.

Symptoms of PTC

  • Headache
  • Migraines
  • Double-vision
  • Blurry vision
  • Blindness
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Problems balancing
  • Disorientation
  • And more