Everything You Need To Know About an IUD

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A doctor holding a copper IUD

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An IUD is a T-shaped device that’s inserted into your uterus and used to prevent pregnancy. IUDs can be used for several years at a time, and may be removed at any time if you wish to become pregnant. They are highly effective at stopping pregnancy from occurring.

There are two types of IUDs: copper IUDs and hormone-releasing IUDs. Both types of IUDs are inserted into your uterus. IUDs prevent pregnancy by changing the way sperm cells move so they can't find and fertilize an egg.

Here, we’ll look at how IUDs work, their benefits and risks, how effective IUDs are, the different types of available IUDs, and what the IUD insertion process is like.

Types of IUDs

Both copper IUDs and hormone-releasing IUDs (also known as levonorgestrel-releasing IUD) are T-shaped devices that are inserted into your uterus to prevent pregnancy. But each type of IUD is made of different materials, and works slightly differently to prevent pregnancy. Let’s look at the different components of these two types of IUDs.

Copper IUDs

Copper-bearing IUDs made of plastic and copper. These types of IUDs are sometimes referred to as “coil” IUDs, or “copper coil” IUDs. The copper coils on this IUD make your uterus a less hospitable environment for sperm. Copper IUDs do not release any hormones, which is a key way that they are different from levonorgestrel-releasing IUDs.

Copper IUDs are effective for about 10 years after insertion, and they start to work right away after they are put in. Copper IUDs can also be used as a form of emergency contraception, if they are inserted within five days of unprotected sex. Their failure rate as emergency contraception is about 0.1%, which means they are about 99% effective as an emergency contraception method.

Hormonal IUDs

Levonorgestrel-releasing IUDs are also known as hormone-releasing IUDs. These type of IUDs are made of plastic. They release progestin, a hormone that helps prevent pregnancy. These types of IUDs work by thickening cervical mucus so sperm have trouble entering the uterus, and thinning the lining of the uterus, preventing implantation from occurring.

It takes about a week for hormone-releasing IUDs to take full effect, so you need to use other types of birth control during that time period. Levonorgestrel-releasing IUDs are effective for 3-8 years, depending on which type and brand you use.

FDA-Approved IUDs

There are five brands of IUDs approved by the FDA:

  • Paragard: Copper IUD, approved for use for 10 years
  • Mirena: Hormonal IUD, approved for use for 7 years
  • Liletta: Hormonal IUD, approved for use for 7 years
  • Kyleena: Hormonal IUD, approved for use for 5 years
  • Skyla: Hormonal IUD, approved for use for 3 years

Benefits of an IUD

IUDs are one of the most popular forms of birth control. They have gradually increased in popularity over the past few decades. It’s estimated that 14% of people with female reproductive systems use IUDs as birth control.

Some of the benefits of IUDs include:

  • Depending on which type of IUD you use, you will not have to worry about getting pregnant for 3-10 years
  • Hormones from IUDs stay localized in your uterus, so you avoid the potential side effects of other hormonal birth control methods
  • Some IUDs can be used as emergency birth control, provided they are used within 5 days of unprotected sex
  • Some hormonal IUDs can decrease menstrual flow or stop menstrual from occurring
  • It’s possible that IUDs can decrease the chances of endometrial cancer in people who are at risk

Risks of Using an IUD

IUDs don’t have many risks, but that doesn’t mean they are entirely risk-free. Some of the possible risks of using in IUD are:

  • Like all birth control methods, there are is small chance you will become pregnant while using an IUD
  • If you become pregnant, you will need to remove the IUD to prevent miscarriage
  • Pregnancies that happen while you are using an IUD increase the rate of ectopic pregnancy, which is where the fertilized eggs is implanted in the fallopian tube; ectopic pregnancies are serious and can become life-threatening
  • IUDs can sometimes become embedded in the uterine wall and can’t be easily removed; these cases may require surgical removal

Are IUDs Effective?

IUDs are one of the most effective birth control methods out there, and their success rates are similar to the success rates of people who have undergone sterilization. Overall, IUDs have a 99% effectiveness rate of stopping pregnancy. When you use a copper IUD, the chance of failure is 0.08%. The chance of failure of hormonal-releasing IUDs is 0.02%.

IUD Procedure

IUDs can be inserted anytime during your menstrual cycle, though you must be sure that you aren’t pregnant. Some providers will ask you to take a pregnancy test before the procedure to confirm this. At times, you will also be tested for sexually transmitted diseases before the procedure. You can have an IUD inserted right after you’ve given birth and soon after an abortion or miscarriage.

IUD insertion usually happens at a provider’s office or a clinic. Here’s what to expect during the procedure:

  • Your cervix (the opening to your uterus) will be washed with an antiseptic solution
  • The IUD will be gently guided through your cervix and into your uterus
  • After the procedure, the two strings that are attached to the IUD will remain inside your vagina; these may be trimmed by your provider
  • The purpose of these two strings is to make it easy to remove the IUD in the future

After the IUD Procedure

Sometimes insertion of an IUD can cause mild side effects. These may include cramping, discomfort, backaches, and feeling dizzy. You can use over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication to ease these symptoms. Call your healthcare provider if you have fever, flu symptoms, or intense cramps, unusual vagina discharge, or heavy bleeding.

Copper IUDs begin to take effect right after insertion, but hormonal IUDs take about a week to take effect. You can have sex right after you have a hormonal IUD inserted, but you must use an alternative form or birth control for seven days.

Most providers will want to see you in two to four weeks to make sure that the IUD is in the correct place and that everything looks good. Your provider may also advise you about how often to check your IUD and what types of symptoms require a call or follow-up visit.

At times, IUDs partially slip out the uterus. This is rare, and requires medical attention; you shouldn’t try to handle this issue yourself.

A Quick Review

IUDs are a type of long-term birth control. There are two types: copper IUDs and hormonal IUDs. Both work by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg and by making the uterus an inhospitable environment for sperm. IUDs are highly effective, and prevent pregnancy 99% of the time.

Although IUDs have many benefits, there are some risks involved in using one, and they aren’t for everyone. If you are interested in using an IUD, you should speak to an OB-GYN, who can help you decide if it’s the right form of birth control for you.

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8 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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