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You have many options when it comes to birth control. One of the best and most effective among them is an intrauterine device (IUD) — a small, T-shaped device inserted into the uterus to prevent you from becoming pregnant. It’s 99 percent effective, which means that one out of 100 women who use an IUD will get pregnant each year. Depending on the type of IUD you use, that protection lasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for three to 10 years.

“IUDs are effective because they remove human error,” said Jason Cruff, D.O., obstetrician/gynecologist at Geisinger East Mountain Specialty Clinic in Wilkes-Barre. “You can’t use them incorrectly, which happens frequently with condoms, and you’ll never forget to take it like many women do with their birth control pill.”

The two types of IUDs

There are two types of IUDs available: hormonal IUDs (Mirena, Skyla, Liletta and Kyleena) and a copper IUD (ParaGard).

The hormonal IUDs release a small amount of a synthetic hormone called progestin, which acts locally in the uterus. This hormone thickens mucus in the cervix to block sperm from reaching the uterus, and it may also stop the ovaries from releasing eggs. 

Hormonal IUDs do not contain estrogen, which means they don’t create the same side effects as the birth control pill. In fact, many women using hormonal IUDs have lighter periods or no period, and fewer cramps.

The copper IUD contains no hormones at all. It works by releasing a small amount of copper, which is toxic to sperm. Copper IUDs are a good option for women who cannot use any kind of hormonal birth control methods because of a medical condition.

“The copper IUD can also be used as emergency contraception,” said Dr. Cruff. “If it’s inserted within five days of having unprotected sex, it’s more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.”

Inserting the IUD

After testing you for STDs and performing an exam of your vagina, cervix and uterus, you will be given medication to numb your cervix.

The doctor or nurse will then use a speculum and applicator tube to insert the IUD into your uterus through the cervix. You may feel mild pain and cramping during and shortly after the procedure, which lasts only about five minutes.

After the IUD is inserted, you’re free to have sex almost right away, depending on the type of device. The copper IUD is effective immediately after insertion. The hormonal IUDs are effective immediately if they are inserted during the first seven days of your period. Otherwise, it will take seven days for them to become fully effective, during which time you should use another form of birth control, such as a condom.

A small string attached to the IUD will come out of the cervix into the top of the vagina. This string is used by the doctor or nurse to remove the IUD. Once the IUD is removed, your fertility returns to normal and you can get pregnant right away.

Risks associated with IUDs

There are some risks associated with an IUD:

  • It may slip or fall out, usually in the first few months after insertion.
  • You may have some side effects in the first few months, including cramping, spotting, irregular periods and heavier periods.
  • Complications during insertion, such as perforations of the uterus and bacterial infections, can occur. These side effects are very rare.

“IUDs are one of the most effective forms of birth control, but they do not provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases,” said Dr. Cruff.

If you think an IUD may be the right birth control option for you, talk to your doctor, gynecologist or a family planning clinic for more information.