Intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are small, t-shaped pieces of plastic that are put into the uterus. Before getting an IUD, it's important to know the most common benefits, risks, side effects and other birth control choices you have.
What are intrauterine devices (IUDs)?
Also known as intrauterine contraceptives (IUC), IUDs are a form of long-acting reversible contraception. There are two types of IUDs:
- Copper IUD - It contains copper, a natural spermicide, and is good for up to 12 years.
- Levonorgestrel IUD (LNG IUD) - It has a hormone like the progesterone made in your body. LNG IUDs are good for 3 to 7 years, depending on which one you get. There are several kinds of LNG IUDs: the Mirena, Liletta, Kyleena and Skyla.
Both types work mainly by affecting the way sperm move so they can't join with an egg. The hormone in LNG IUDs can also work in two other ways:
- In some people, it keeps eggs from leaving the ovaries.
- It makes cervical mucus thicker, which keeps sperm from getting to the eggs.
The copper IUD can also be used as emergency contraception when put in within five days of unprotected sex.
What are the benefits of an IUD?
There's nothing you have to do before sex to make an IUD work. Being able to get pregnant comes back quickly after removing the IUD. It also protects you from:
- Cancer of the uterus
- Pregnancy in the tubes, also known as an ectopic pregnancy
LNG IUD-specific benefits
- Fewer menstrual cramps
- Lighter periods - often periods stop after a few months
- Less anemia (iron poor blood)
Copper IUD- specific benefits
- No hormones
- Can be used for emergency contraception (EC)
How well does the IUD work? How effective is the IUD at preventing pregnancy?
For every 100 people who use the IUD, fewer than 1 will get pregnant each year. As EC, the copper IUD is one of the most effective forms. For every 100 people who use the IUD for EC, fewer than 1 will get pregnant.
What are the risks of using an IUD?
- Injury to the uterus (perforation) - The IUD or instruments used to put the IUD in may go through the wall of the uterus. Treatment may mean just watching and waiting for a while or it may require surgery. There is a small chance that a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) may be needed. Afterward, scars may develop inside the uterus, which may also need to be treated.
- Expulsion - Occasioanlly, the IUD will slip out of the uterus. You can become pregnant if this happens. The IUD must be removed if it comes out part way.
- Pregnancy - There is a small chance you can get pregnant. You should see your doctor right away if thsi happens. You IUD needs to be removed and your doctor needs to make sure you do not have a pregnancy in your fallopian tubes, as this could be life threatening.
- Infection of the uterus - Most infections can be treated with medication.
What are the side effects of the IUD?
You may have the following side effects:
- Mild or moderate pain when the IUD is first inserted
- Cramping or backache for a few days
- Irregular periods or spotting between periods for the first 3-6 months
- Heavier periods or worse menstrual cramps with the copper IUD
Besides the IUD, what other choices do I have for birth control? For emergency contraception?
There are many other methods of birth control. We can talk about any of these options with you and help you with whatever you decide to do. You can even do a virtual appointment to discuss your birth control options!
For emergency contracepton, there are pills such as Plan B and Ella you can use. Learn more about the different types of emergency contraception and we are happy to discuss all your options with you.
If you are concerned about the cost of getting an IUD, and you live in Missouri, know that Planned Parenthood is part of a statewide initiative to provide birth control for free or low-cost to those who need it. Learn more about The Right Time and how you can access the birth control you need.
How is the IUD put in? How is the IUD inserted?
When you arrive for IUD insertion appointment, you will lie on your back as you would for a Pap test. The doctor or nurse will insert a speculum into the vagina to hold the cervix open. The IUD will then be put into the opening in the cervix and into the uterus. You may feel a bit of cramping during the process, and plastic strings will hang down into your vagina.
Before the IUD is put in, you may be offered medicine to help open your cervix or numb your cervix.
How is the IUD removed or taken out?
Having your IUD taken out or replaced is usually very simple. Your doctor or nurse will do it for you by gently pulling on the IUD strings. Rarely, if the IUD doesn't come out easily, a small instrument may be needed to take out your IUD. Very rarely, surgery may be needed.
You can get both your IUD inserted and removed at Planned Parenthood. If you got your IUD elsewhere, you can still get your device removed and replaced at Planned Parenthood if you choose.
What else do I need to know about IUDs?
- Read the package insert that comes with the IUD. The information there may be different from outs. Please let us know if you have questions.
- You can check the string to make sure that the IUD is in place. Ask your doctor or nurse how if you're unsure.
- The IUD does not protect you from sexually transmitted infections.
Call us right away at 314-531-7526 (or after hours call the medical exchange at 877-442-4324) if you have:
- Fever of 100.4 or higher
- Belly pain or cramps that don't get better with pain medicine
- Heavy bleeding or bleeding that lasts for more than a week
- A bad smelling vaginal discharge
- Ongoing pain or bleeding with intercourse
- Notice any change in the length of the string or can feel par of the IUD
- Symptoms of pregnancy