Desogestrel

Reviewed: July 15, 2021

Desogestrel is a third-generation progestogen. It is a synthetic progesterone known as a ‘progestin’ (basically, it’s like the stuff found in your body naturally, but made in a lab). It’s one of the hormones used in some brands of the combine contraceptive pill and used on its own in some brands of the progestogen-only pill.

Interestingly, it’s also been considered for use as a possible reversible contraceptive for men1.

How does it work?

Desogestrel’s main job is to thicken your cervical fluid, making it harder for sperm to get into your uterus. It also works by preventing ovulation 97% of the time2 and can thin the lining of your uterus, making it difficult for a fertilised egg to implant.

What is it used in?

Combined pill

Progestogen-Only Pill

Is it androgenic?

Yes, but compared to other synthetic progestins, it is very weakly androgenic. (Check out our ‘Androgens’ blog for more info on what this means).

What are the side effects?

Desogestrel is often combined with other hormones in the combined contraceptive pill, so it can be pretty difficult to tell which side effects it’s responsible for and which could be due to the other hormones involved, such as oestrogen. When looking at people who use contraceptives containing only desogestrel, however, the following possible side-effects have been noted:

  • Breast tenderness or enlargement
  • Changes to mood
  • Headaches
  • Decreased libido
  • Irregularities in the menstrual cycle and irregular bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Skin reactions
  • Weight changes

 

References

  1. Grimes  DA, Lopez  LM, Gallo  MF, Halpern  V, Nanda  K and Schulz  KF. Steroid hormones for contraception in men. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012. Issue 3. Art. No.: CD004316. DOI: Available from: https://doi.org/10.1002%2F14651858.CD004316.pub4
  2. Faculty of Family Planning & Reproductive Health Care, Clinical Effectiveness Unit. Desogestrel-only pill (Cerazette). Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care. 2003. 29(3):162-164. Available from: doi:10.1783/147118903101197593
  3. Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary (online) London: BMJ Group and Pharmaceutical Press <https://bnf.nice.org.uk/drug/desogestrel.html> [Accessed on [13 August 2020]

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