Table Of Contents
- What is an IUD?
- How Does an IUD Prevent Pregnancy?
- What Are the Benefits?
- What Are the Disadvantages?
- How Effective is it?
- Is an IUD Safe?
- How do I get one?
- How is an IUD removed?
What is an IUD?
An IUD (Intrauterine Device) is a small t-shaped device that is made out of flexible plastic. The t-shaped device is inserted into a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. It is an effective, long-term birth control method. However, if you ever do want to become pregnant, the IUD can easily be removed because they are not permanent.
There are two different types of devices available:
Copper IUD – No hormones, wrapped in copper, protects from pregnancy for up to:
- ParaGard – 12 years
Hormonal IUD – Contains the hormone progestin and protects from pregnancy for up to:
How Does an IUD Prevent Pregnancy?
IUD’s prevent pregnancy by affecting the way sperm moves. The copper IUD does not allow sperm to join the egg. The hormonal IUD makes cervical mucus thicker, preventing sperm from getting to the egg. Hormonal IUD’s can also stop ovulation (eggs from leaving the ovaries). If sperm cannot reach the egg, fertilization cannot take place, and therefore the woman cannot become pregnant.
In addition, Copper IUD’s can be used as emergency contraception. If inserted within 5 days after having unprotected sex, it is over 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy.
What Are the Benefits?
A full list of benefits includes:
- Over 99% effective
- Long term protection
- Easy and convenient
- Can be used while breastfeeding
- The copper (ParaGard) does not affect women’s hormone levels
- Ability to become pregnant immediately after it is removed
- Lighter and less severe periods and cramps
What Are the Disadvantages?
Side effects of an IUD are rarely serious. Most side effects go away after 3-6 months, once your body has gotten used to having it in your uterus.
Possible IUD side effects include:
- Mild to moderate pain during insertion
- Backaches or cramping for a few days after insertion
- Irregular periods and spotting for 3-6 months after insertion
- Worse menstrual cramps or heavier periods for 3-6 months after insertion
Serious problems are rare, but here are a few risks of an IUD:
- It can push into the wall of the uterus. This may sound painful but it isn’t and can be fixed by a health care professional. If it is not noticed by the health care professional right away, it can harm other parts of the body. If this occurs, surgery may be required to remove it.
- It can slip out of the uterus (either all the way out or just a little). This is more likely in women who have not have had a baby before. If it comes out a little, it needs to be removed. If it ever slips out of position, you are at risk of becoming pregnant.
- Bacteria can get into the uterus during insertion, causing an infection. These infections usually appear within 3 weeks and need to be treated immediately. Failure to get this treated may affect your chances of becoming pregnant in the future.
- Although unlikely, if you did get pregnant with an IUD inserted, there is an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.
Other treatments and medicines can help with side effects if they occur. Notify your health care professional if they continue longer than expected.
In addition, these are some warning signs you should be aware of.
- Unexplained vaginal bleeding
- Unexplained chills/and or fever
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Tiredness or muscle aches
- Bleeding or pain during sex
- Severe tenderness, cramping, or pain in the abdomen
- Longer lasting or heavier periods than normal
- If you think you may be pregnant
- The strings feel longer or shorter than they were after insertion
- You cannot feel the string ends
- You cannot feel the plastic bottom of the “T”
Tell your health care professional immediately if any of the above symptoms occur.
How Effective is it?
An IUD is one of the most effective methods of birth control. It is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
There are less risks than other forms of birth control. For example you:
- Can’t forget to take it (like the pill or the shot)
- Don’t have to change it often (like the patch)
- Can’t use it incorrectly (like a condom)
- Don’t have to worry about external factors (like the withdrawal method)
Copper IUD’s (ParaGard) can also be used as an emergency birth control within five days of unprotected intercourse. It can help reduce the risk of pregnancy by 99.9% after sex. It starts working to protect against pregnancy immediately after insertion.
Hormonal IUD’s should be inserted within seven days of starting your period. If it is inserted afterwards, it is best to use another form of birth control for the first seven days after insertion.
Is an IUD Safe?
This method is safe for most women but certain conditions may increase your chances of complications. Talk to your health care professional to see whether or not this method is right for you.
This method should not be used if you have:
- Cancer of the uterus
- Cervical cancer that has not been treated
- Thoughts that you might be pregnant
- Pelvic infection or an STI (sexually transmitted infection)
- Vaginal bleeding (other than your period)
- Pelvic tuberculosis
- Uterine perforation (during insertion)
Although uncommon, a health care professional may also find that a woman’s uterus does not allow for the correct placement of an IUD. This depends on the unique shape, size or condition of the uterus.
The copper IUD (ParaGard) should not be used if you have:
- An allergy to copper
- Wilson’s Disease (inherited disease that does not allow the body to get rid of copper)
- Bleeding disorder that makes it hard for your blood to clot
The hormonal IUD should not be used if you have:
- Severe liver disease
- Breast cancer
If these conditions make it unsafe for you to use an IUD, check out other effective methods of birth control.
How do I get one?
In order to get an IUD, you need to talk to your health care professional. They will assess your body, medical history, and lifestyle.
If this method is appropriate, a medical exam should be performed and you might need to get tested for STI’s or other infections. The vagina and other organs will need to be checked before insertion as well. Your health care professional will also check for any type of pelvic infection. If a pelvic infection is found, treatment will need to take place before insertion.
The cost of this method ranges from $0-1,000, depending on your location and medical coverage. This is a one-time cost (for 3-12 years) versus other types of birth control methods.
Insertion can be done at any time during the month, but it is more conformable midway through your menstrual cycle. This is when the cervix is the most open. It can also be inserted after pregnancy or after an abortion. It will be inserted during a private appointment with your doctor or physician.
Once it is inserted, some women feel discomfort or cramping. This will go away with pain revilers and rest. It is important to take pain relievers before it’s inserted to reduce discomfort. It is important you bring someone to drive you home because you may feel dizzy after insertion as well.
After it is inserted, a string (about 1-2 inches) will hang down from your vagina.
How is an IUD removed?
You can have an IUD removed at anytime. If it’s going to expire, you will need to have it replaced if you want to continue to prevent pregnancy. Follow the expiry dates on the instructions of your specific IUD brand to know when yours needs to be removed.
IUD removal should be done by a health care professional. Never remove it yourself. Removal is simple and in most cases it is easily pulled free with surgical tools. It is a quick process where the IUD’s arms fold up and it slips out of the vagina.
However, if the IUD doesn’t come out easily special instruments may be required to remove it. In rare cases, surgery may be required.
After being removed, your body will go back to normal. Periods will return as they were before insertion, some spotting and cramping may occur. In addition, your fertility will go back to normal and pregnancy will be possible immediately.
Check out other Birth Control Options and speak with your doctor before deciding on your birth control method.