One of the most popular and effective birth control methods today is the use of an IUD or an intrauterine device. It is a T-shaped plastic device that is inserted into a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two types of IUDs that are available in the United States – hormonal IUD and copper IUD. A hormonal IUD or what is more popularly marketed as Mirena can be kept in place for up to 5 years. The copper IUD on the other hand or what is also known as ParaGard T380A can last up to 10 years inside the uterus. Although both IUDs have the same shape, they work differently in preventing pregnancy.

How do IUDs prevent pregnancy?

A hormonal IUD prevents pregnancy by releasing the hormone progestin into the uterus. It prevents pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation and by thickening a woman’s cervical mucus. With these mechanisms working together, pregnancy is prevented because it will decrease the chance of the sperm to survive and enter the cervix for fertilization. Progestin also keeps the lining of the uterus thin thereby preventing implantation. A copper IUD on the other hand releases a small amount of copper into the uterus. It prevents pregnancy because it affects the mobility of the sperm making conception difficult.

How effective are IUDs?

Since IUDs offer up to 98-99% of protection, it is among the most reliable forms of protection available today. However, the popularity of IUDs have declined in the 70’s because there were health concerns associated with the old design. But with a new and safer design, the use of an IUD is now a safe, reliable and convenient method of birth control.

Who can use the IUD?

Just like any other form of birth control method, the IUD is not for everyone. Your doctor will first get your health history to determine whether you can safely use it. It is not safe to use an IUD if:

– You have pelvic cancer
– You suspect that you are pregnant
– You have a sexually transmitted disease
– You have unexplained vaginal bleeding
– You have a recent history of pelvic inflammatory disease
– You have a liver problem (applies to hormonal IUD only)
– Your uterus has a different shape and it can affect the proper placement of the IUD
– You are allergic to copper (applies to copper IUD only)

How is it inserted?

An IUD is inserted by a doctor ideally during or right after your period when your cervix is most open. The IUD is first placed inside a long plastic tube that the doctor will guide through the cervix and into the uterus. Once the correct position is reached, the doctor will push out the IUD from the tube to put it in place.

Before insertion, you may take an over the counter pain medication because mild to moderate discomfort is expected. The experience is not the same for everyone though and at certain times a doctor may use a local anesthesia to insert the IUD.

How to check the placement?

Once an IUD is in place, your doctor will teach you how to check the placement because regular checks are necessary. You need to insert your finger into your vagina so that you can feel the thin, tail ends of the IUD. If you find them, it means that your IUD is in place. But if the strings seem shorter or longer than before, your IUD may have moved and your doctor needs to put it back in place. When this happens, you need an alternate form of birth control to prevent pregnancy until such time that your doctor can fix the placement.  If you can’t locate the strings or if you already feel the IUD in your vagina or cervix, call your doctor.

What are the side effects?

IUDs don’t usually lead to problems especially among women in monogamous relationships because it decreases the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease. But with the use of a copper IUD, common side effects include menstrual irregularities and cramps. For the hormone IUD, you will get side effects similar to that of taking pills.

When to call a doctor?

Aside from not being able to find the end strings of your IUD, you need to contact your doctor if you have severe abdominal pain, and if you experience discomfort during sex. You also need to get in touch with your doctor if you suspect that you are pregnant, or if you have an unusual vaginal discharge.