An intrauterine device (IUD) is a type of birth control that is inserted directly into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. When considering birth control, there are many options for women to use, which is why it is important to get the information on each method for an educated decision. This page covers the basic information about the IUD to help you decide if it's right for you.
WHAT IS AN IUD?
An intrauterine device, or IUD, is a small, t-shaped device made of plastic. It is inserted by your doctor directly into the uterus, and it can be left in the uterus for 5 to 10 years, depending on the type. There are two forms of IUD:
- Copper: Copper IUDs can remain in your body for as long as 10 years.
- Progesterone: This type of IUD is made of plastic and contains the hormone progesterone. This type of IUD has to be replaced every 5 years.
IUDs are a popular form of birth control all over the world. However, it is important to remember that they do not protect against HIV or other STDs. Although in the past IUDs were sometimes unsafe, scientists have perfected the technology to make IUDs very safe and usable.
HOW DO THEY WORK?
Depending on the type of IUD you get, it can work in one of two ways:
- Copper IUD: Copper IUDs work by releasing small amounts of copper into the uterus. This causes the uterus to produce chemicals that react with the copper, causing a chemical reaction in the uterus and fallopian tubes. This reaction creates conditions that are unfavorable for an egg to be fertilized by sperm, almost like a spermicide.
- IUD with Progesterone: This IUD releases a small amount of the hormone progestin, which thickens cervical mucus and makes sperm unable to travel through the cervix. It also immobilizes the sperm and makes conditions unfavorable for the egg to live as well as thinning out the endometrial lining.
HOW IS THE IUD INSERTED?
The only way an IUD can be inserted or removed is by a doctor. Before it is inserted, your doctor will perform an exam and ask questions to make sure that you are able to use an IUD. If you are able to use it, you may have to sign a consent form to make sure that you understand everything about the IUD.
IUDs are often inserted during or right after your period. It will be placed into a thin plastic tube, which your doctor will guide through your vaginal and cervical openings and into the uterus. It is then pushed out and into the uterus and springs into place. This may be somewhat painful or uncomfortable, but does not require anesthesia to perform the insertion.
Once it is inserted, your doctor will teach you how to make sure it is properly in place. Your IUD comes with pieces of string on the end, which hangs down through the cervical opening. You will be able to check the placement depending on these strings. You cannot feel the string during normal movement, and it should not affect intercourse, although your partner may be able to feel it on his penis. It is very important that you check the string regularly, which you can do by inserting a finger into the vagina and feeling it. If you cannot feel the string, the IUD may be out of place. If this happens, call your doctor, and use another form of birth control until he or she can correct it. Do NOT try to remove the IUD. Only a doctor can remove it.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF IUDS?
IUDs are one of the most effective forms of birth control available. The hormonal IUD is more effective than the copper IUD, even though the latter is still extremely effective. The IUD also has other benefits, including the fact that it is easy to use, requires no effort, does not interfere with sex or daily activities, and cannot be dislodged by physical activity.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OR SIDE EFFECTS OF USING AN IUD?
Side effects of having the IUD differ depending on the type. Copper IUDs may cause greater pain and bleeding during menstruation. However, hormonal IUDs tend to lessen menstrual periods. Some women have cramping or spotting after insertion. Vaginal discharge is also common. Both of these symptoms usually disappear within a month.
However rare serious complications are, it is still important to know them. These include:
- Expulsion: This happens in about 5% of users within the first year of having an IUD, and most commonly in women who have not had children. Once expelled into the vagina, the IUD is no longer effective.
- Perforation: The IUD can pierce the wall of the uterus during removal or insertion. This complication is extremely rare.
- Infection: Infection inside the reproductive organs can occur, which may cause scarring. Scarring can affect a woman’s ability to conceive after the IUD is removed..
- Pregnancy: Rarely, pregnancy can occur while an IUD is in place. If it is removed soon after conception, the risks are greatly lessened. However, if it is left in place, it can cause miscarriage, infection, or preterm birth.
IUDs offer safe, popular, and effective protection on pregnancy. It is important to make sure that the IUD is right for you before choosing it. Talk to your doctor about your birth control options and whether an IUD is the right choice for you.
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