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The intrauterine device (IUD) is a small plastic T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus. An IUD's contraceptive action begins as soon as the device is placed in the uterus and stops as soon as it is removed. IUDs have an effectiveness rate of close to 100%. They are also a reversible form of contraception. Once the device is removed, a woman regains her fertility.
The intrauterine device (IUD) is one of the safest, least expensive, and most effective contraceptive devices available. In spite of its clear advantages and current safety record, only 2% of American women who practice contraception currently use the IUD. (Over 10% of European women have chosen the IUD.) This low use in America is mainly due to persisting and now unwarranted fears of serious infection and other complications. However, the evidence available today should reassure providers and patients about the following concerns:
Two types of intrauterine devices (IUDs) are available in the United States:
With some exceptions, an intrauterine device (IUD) can be inserted at any time, except during pregnancy or when an infection is present. It may be inserted immediately postpartum or after elective or spontaneous miscarriage. It is typically inserted in the following manner by a trained health professional:
The strings have two purposes:
The insertion procedure can be painful and sometimes causes cramps, but for many women it is painless or only slightly uncomfortable. Patients are often advised to take an over-the-counter painkiller ahead of time. They can also ask for a local anesthetic to be applied to the cervix if they are sensitive to pain in that area. Occasionally a woman will feel dizzy or light-headed during insertion. Some women may have cramps and backaches for 1 - 2 days after insertion, and others may suffer cramps and backaches for weeks or months. Over-the-counter painkillers can usually moderate this discomfort.
Intrauterine devices are an excellent choice of contraception for women who are seeking a long-term and effective birth control method, particularly those wishing to avoid risks and side effects of contraceptive hormones. The LNG-IUS may be better suited for women with heavy or regular menstrual flow.
Around the time of insertion and shortly afterwards, women should be considered at low risk for sexually transmitted disease (mutually monogamous relationship, using condoms, or not sexually active).
Women with risk factors that preclude hormonal contraceptives should probably avoid progestin-releasing IUDs, although the progestin doses are much lower with LNG-IUS and probably do not pose the same risks.
Women with the following history or conditions may be poor candidates for IUDs:
IUDs have the following advantages:
Additional advantages, depending on the specific IUD, include:
Menstrual Bleeding. Both intrauterine device (IUD) forms have effects on menstruation, although they differ significantly by type:
Ovarian Cysts. The LNG-IUS may increase the risk for benign ovarian cysts, but such cysts usually do not cause symptoms and resolve on their own.
Expulsion. An estimated 2 - 8% of IUDs are expelled from the uterus within the first year. Expulsion is most likely to occur during the first 3 months after insertion. Expulsion rates may be higher than average if the IUD is inserted immediately after delivery of a child. In 1 in 5 cases, the woman fails to notice that the device is gone, and thus faces the risk of unintended pregnancy. The risk for expulsion is highest during menstruation, so women should be sure to check the strings to make sure the IUD is in place.
Effects on Pregnancy. None of the current IUDs increase the risk for infertility. In the very unlikely event that a woman conceives with an IUD in place, however, there is a higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.
If the IUD is removed right after conception, the risk for miscarriage is close to average (about 20%). There is no evidence that the IUD in a pregnant woman increases the risk for birth defects in the infant.
Perforation. A potentially serious complication of the IUD is the accidental perforation of the uterus during insertion or later perforation if the IUD shifts position. Such an occurrence is very rare, and the risk is higher or lower depending on the skill of the doctor.
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