Should You Get an IUD?

Rami Tabbarah, MD, is a member of Inova Medical Group. He is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. Read Dr. Tabbarah’s profile.

More and more of my patients have been asking about intrauterine devices (IUDs). I’m not surprised this contraceptive option is growing in popularity. The IUD is a safe and effective contraceptive choice that can provide a range of benefits.

Here are a few things to consider when deciding if an IUD is right for you.

What is an IUD?

An IUD is a small T-shaped device that’s inserted into the uterus to prevent unwanted pregnancy. IUDs are a type of long-acting reversible contraceptives. That means they protect against pregnancy as long as they are in place. Once they’re removed, a woman’s fertility returns immediately.

It takes only a few minutes to insert an IUD, and it can be done right in the doctor’s office.

How Effective is it?

The IUD is one of the most effective contraceptives for preventing unwanted pregnancy. The birth control pill is about 91 percent effective. In other words, about 9 women out of 100 become pregnant while using the pill. Male condoms prevent pregnancy about 82 percent of the time, when used correctly. The IUD, on the other hand, is more than 99 percent effective.

What Options are Available?

  • Paragard is a copper-releasing IUD that can prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years.
  • Mirena is a hormone-releasing IUD that can prevent pregnancy for up to five years. It’s recommended for women who have had a child and those with heavy periods.
  • Skyla and Kyleena are hormone-releasing IUDs that are usually recommended for women who have not had a child. Skyla can remain in place for up to three years, and Kyleena up to five years.

What are the Benefits?

Besides being extremely effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy, IUDs are also convenient. Once the device is in place, you don’t have to think about pregnancy prevention again for years. And the different options mean that women can choose the device that makes the most sense for them.

Mirena, Skyla and Kyleena release a small amount of progestin hormone. Because these devices act locally inside the uterus, they use a smaller dose of hormones than those found in most birth control pills, and they do not contain estrogen. That means side effects like weight gain or hormonal fluctuations are rare.

Hormone-releasing IUDs are popular because they tend to make periods lighter. In fact, Mirena is FDA approved to treat heavy periods, and some women who use Mirena stop having periods altogether.

Not everyone is a good candidate for hormonal birth control, though. We recommend that women with existing medical conditions, such as a history of breast cancer or an increased risk of developing blood clots, avoid hormonal medications. And some women just prefer not to take hormones of any kind. In those cases, the Paragard is a great choice.

What are the Drawbacks?

As with any medical device, there are some risks. There’s a very small chance the IUD could make a hole in the wall of the uterus when it’s inserted. In the rare case a woman becomes pregnant with an IUD, she may have a greater chance of an ectopic pregnancy.

Having the device inserted can be uncomfortable, and some women experience cramps for a few days or even a few weeks. And it’s not unusual to have irregular bleeding or spotting for three to six months after the IUD is placed.

And of course, IUDs only protect against pregnancy. They do not offer protection from sexually transmitted disease.

Is it Right for Me?

Overall, many women find that the benefits of the IUD outweigh the risks and possible side effects. The vast majority of my patients report that they’re very happy with this choice of birth control.

Talk to your doctor about whether the IUD is a good choice for you, or visit Inova Obstetrics and Gynecology to find an OBGYN specialist.

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