IUDs, or intrauterine devices, are an increasingly popular form of long-term birth control for women. An IUD is a small metal or plastic T-shaped device inserted through the cervix and into the uterus. Once inserted, they are 99.7% effective and will last between 3 and 12 years, depending on the specific device. There is no need to remember to take a pill every day, and no room for user error, since the insertion is performed by a professional gynecologist.
An IUD is also a completely reversible form of birth control: it can be taken out at any time and normal fertility will resume within a few months. There are two types of IUD: the copper IUD and the hormonal IUD. Dr. Campbell of New River Women’s Health provides information for both to help you decide which device is the best fit for your needs and lifestyle.
The copper IUD, under the brand name ParaGard, does not contain hormones. Copper wire is wrapped around each branch of the “T” shape. The presence of the copper has a negative effect on sperm motility, preventing them from reaching and fertilizing an egg. It also works to make the uterus an inhospitable environment.
The copper IUD can be effective for up to 12 years, but it does come with side effects such as a heavier period and spotting in between periods. Women with medical conditions such as liver disease or a history of breast cancer should avoid hormonal forms of birth control, so a copper IUD is the preferred type for them. Other women may also simply prefer a hormone-free form of birth control to avoid any side effects from the hormones.
On the other hand, women with copper allergies or Wilson’s disease should avoid the copper IUD.
There are several brands of hormonal IUD: Mirena, Kyleena, Skyla, and Liletta. Hormonal IUDs use progestin, a chemical nearly identical to the body’s natural progesterone, to prevent pregnancy. Progestin thickens cervical mucus to form a barrier to sperm, prevents ovulation, and thins the uterine lining so that a fertilized egg cannot implant itself within the uterus.
These devices don’t last as long as the copper IUD: Mirena and Kyleena last between 5 and 6 years, while Liletta lasts for 4 and Skyla lasts for 3. However, they carry certain advantages: in most cases, they can make period bleeding lighter and reduce symptoms like cramps. Some women stop having a period altogether while on a hormonal IUD.
Hormonal IUDs also take up to 7 days to begin preventing pregnancy, unlike a copper IUD, which is effective right away.
Getting an IUD
If you’ve gotten a pap smear, getting an IUD is similar. First, discuss your IUD options with Dr. Campbell so you can determine which device is right for you. She will ask you about your medical history and examine your vagina, cervix, and the position of your uterus. Then, she will insert a speculum into your vagina and use a special insertion tube to maneuver the IUD past your cervix and into your uterus. The “arms” of the IUD will then spring open. All in all, the process takes about 5 minutes or less.
The insertion process can be uncomfortable. It’s important to be prepared. Dr. Campbell may suggest taking an over-the-counter painkiller such as ibuprofen before your appointment. If you’re nervous about the discomfort, she may also be able to offer a numbing cream for your cervix.
You may feel some severe cramping, discomfort, and possibly dizziness immediately after insertion. You may want to bring a friend or use a ride-sharing service to make your way home after the procedure.
After IUD Insertion
The IUD has several strings attached to the end that pass through the cervix and into the vaginal canal. You shouldn’t be able to feel these strings; they’re there so the doctor can check that the IUD is in place and find it again when it’s time for the device to be removed and/or replaced. If you do feel the strings, call New River Women’s Health and make an appointment to have them trimmed. The process will take less than a minute.
Your body may take between 3 to 6 months to fully adjust to the IUD, and you may experience some cramping and spotting between periods during that adjustment period. If those symptoms do not go away in time, or become worse, you may want head to urgent care for immediate treatment and removal of the IUD.
In rare cases, the IUD may slip out during the first few months following insertions. Be vigilant: check your underwear and hygiene products to make sure your IUD has not fallen out. You can also check the strings yourself to make sure it’s still in place. If you suddenly cannot find the strings, contact us immediately to make sure that your IUD is still in place or to confirm that it has fallen out.
Choosing the best contraceptive method for your lifestyle is a decision that requires working with your health provider and having the most up to date information possible. If you would like more information about IUD or other contraceptive options, contact us at (540) 605-7566 for an appointment.