What is an Intrauterine Device & How Does it Work?
An Intrauterine device is a T-shaped piece of plastic placed inside the uterus. The piece of plastic contains copper or a synthetic progesterone hormone that prevents pregnancy. The device releases a constant low dose of a synthetic hormone continually throughout the day.
Both the progesterone IUD and copper IUD prevent pregnancy in one of two ways:
- The released progesterone or copper creates changes in the cervical mucus and inside the uterus that kills sperm or makes them immobile.
- The IUD changes the lining of the uterus, preventing implantation should fertilization occur. It is important to consider the ethical implications of this third method.
How Do You Use an IUD?
Your healthcare provider will perform a pelvic exam, Pap test, and possibly cultures for STDs prior to inserting the intrauterine device. The intrauterine device will then be placed through the vagina and cervix and into the uterus by your healthcare provider. A follow-up visit will be scheduled two to three months after the IUD is inserted.
Unless there are problems, or it is time for your annual exam, there is no need to visit the physician until it is removed. IUDs may remain in place from five to ten years, depending on the type.
You are encouraged to check for the string following each menstruation to confirm that the IUD is still in place. Do not pull on the string.
How Effective is an Intrauterine Device?
The intrauterine system has a failure rate of less than 1%. This means that fewer than one out of every 100 IUD users will become pregnant during the first year of use. You should take a pregnancy test if you are experiencing any pregnancy symptoms.
What are the Side Effects or Health Risks of Intrauterine Devices?
There are various side effects, health risks, and precautions to be aware of when considering an intrauterine device as your form of birth control.
An IUD should NOT be used by women who:
- Have a history of cancer in the uterus or cervix
- Have unexplained vaginal bleeding
- May be pregnant
- Have pelvic inflammatory disease
- Have a history of ectopic pregnancy
- Have Gonorrhea or Chlamydia
- Are not in a mutually monogamous relationship
Potential side effects of using an IUD include:
- Mood changes
- Breast tenderness
- Pelvic pain
- Cramping (copper IUD)
- Increased bleeding during menstruation (copper IUD)
There is an increased risk of pelvic infections, particularly for women who have more than one sexual partner.
Are Intrauterine Devices Reversible?
Yes. Once an intrauterine device is removed, your ability to get pregnant returns rapidly. It is possible to get pregnant as early as a month after the intrauterine device is removed.
How Much Does an IUD Cost?
There are three fees associated with the use of an intrauterine device: the doctor’s visit, the intrauterine device, and a three-month follow-up visit. The total cost should range from $175 to $400, depending on the cost of the physician’s visit.
What About IUDs and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?
The intrauterine system does NOT provide protection against the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
What are the Pros & Cons of an Intrauterine Device?
The Pros of an Intrauterine Device include:
- Convenient and highly effective
- Allows for sexual spontaneity
- Lasts up to 5 years (progesterone IUD) or 10 years (copper IUD)
- Easy – You do not have to do anything once it is placed inside.
- Progesterone-based IUDs may make your period lighter and less painful.
- Effects are reversible promptly after IUD is removed.
The Cons of an Intrauterine Device include:
- Available only through a prescription
- May have hormonal side effects: mood changes, acne, headache, breast tenderness, and nausea (progesterone IUD)
- Irregular bleeding or spotting may occur during the first three to six months.
- Copper IUD may increase cramps and bleeding during monthly periods.
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