What are Intrauterine Devices?
Intrauterine devices are T-shaped devices that are inserted into the uterus by a gynecologist to provide long-term, reversible contraception. There are two types of devices available in the U.S., one made of copper and the other, a flexible plastic. A plastic string connected to the device hangs down into the vagina to confirm placement.
- Intrauterine devices made of copper are effective at preventing pregnancy for 10 years. They are hormone-free making them an option for women who cannot use hormonal contraception. They work by making the intrauterine cavity inhospitable to sperm and hinder the sperm from traveling through the uterus and into the fallopian tubes. The copper IUD can also be used for emergency contraception for up to 5 days following unprotected sex.
- Hormonal intrauterine devices are made of a soft, flexible plastic and work by releasing progestin into the uterus. The hormone causes thickening of cervical mucus and thins the uterine lining. It also acts to decrease sperm motility. Hormonal IUDs work for 5 years.
In a practice bulletin released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, intrauterine devices, and contraceptive implants, were called the most effective reversible contraceptives available.
Side Effects of Intrauterine Devices
Some women do experience side effects associated with the use of an IUD, these vary, depending on the type of device used but may include:
- Increased menstrual pain and bleeding during first few months of copper IUD use, symptoms typically improve within one year
- Bleeding between periods common in early months following copper IUD insertion
- Spotting or irregular bleeding for up to 6 months
- Menstrual pain or cramping that usually decreases over time
- Hormonal side effects including headache, nausea, depression and breast tenderness
Advantages of Intrauterine Device
- Very effective
- Low cost
- Reduced menstrual bleeding with hormonal IUD
- Provides long-term birth control
Possible Risks of Using an Intrauterine Device
No method of birth control is completely risk-free. Although rare, the following complications can occur with an IUD:
- Device may come out of the uterus
- Uterine perforation can occur during insertion
- Infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes
- Slight chance of pregnancy can occur while using an IUD
- Pregnancies that happen with IUD use have a higher risk of being ectopic
Intrauterine devices provide a safe, effective birth control option for many women. Your gynecologist can help you determine whether or not an IUD is right for you.