Pregnancy and Birth Control: Intrauterine Device (IUD)
What is an IUD?
An Intrauterine Device or IUD is a temporary, long-term type of birth control method that is used to prevent pregnancy. There are two types of IUD birth control methods available: the copper iud, and the hormone or mirena iud.
In both cases, a small, t-shaped object is inserted into the uterus by a doctor, and can remain effective for a period of 1 to 12 years. The device is made of flexible plastic, which is either wrapped in copper or releases hormones that are contained within it. A plastic string hangs from the end of an IUD and runs into the vagina through the cervix. This string can be used to ensure that the IUD remains in place, and is also used by a health professional at the time of IUD removal.
How The IUD Works
Both types of IUD contraceptives work by preventing the fertilisation of an egg during intercourse by damaging or killing sperm, and influencing the lining of the uterus where a fertilised egg would be implanted.
The copper intrauterine device works by encouraging the production of fluid by the uterus and fallopian tubes. This fluid contains copper ions which are toxic to sperm, along with white blood cells, enzymes, and natural chemicals known as prostaglandins
The progesterone intrauterine devices, also known as the Mirena IUDs, work by releasing synthetic hormones known as progestin to make the mucus of the cervix thick and sticky in order to prevent sperm from entering the uterus. The Mirena IUD also prevents the lining of the uterus from thickening, a natural process necessary to provide support for a fertilised egg to grow.
Advantages and Disadvantages of IUD
One of the biggest advantages of the IUD contraception technique over other birth control methods is that it is long-lasting and does not require the daily maintenance of other contraceptives such as birth control pills. It also allows women the option of choosing a birth control method that does not alter the natural hormonal levels of the body with the copper IUD.
An IUD can be removed at any time if a woman has decided to stop its use, or is attempting to become pregnant; in contrast, an IUD begins to work almost immediately after its initial clinical insertion, with a wait of approximately 5 days. However, a clinical visit is necessary for both IUD removal and intrauterine device insertion, making it less convenient than other types of birth control.
The birth control effectiveness of the IUD has been shown to have 99% success rate in the prevention of pregnancy. However, individuals should keep in mind that IUDs do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
Not every woman can use an IUD. Some women experience allergic reactions to the copper found in IUDs. Women with a history of repeated pelvic infections, toxic shock syndrome, ectopic pregnancy, breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, Wilson’s disease, diabetes, anemia or heart disease should not use IUDs as a form of contraception. Furthermore, women who are breastfeeding should not use the Mirena IUD, since synthetic hormones may pass into breast milk.
Other conditions can also affect whether or not a woman should use IUDs. A consultation with a health care professional is always necessary in order to determine whether or not an IUD can be recommended based on your personal medical history.
Risks and Side Effects of IUD
Like many birth control options, the IUD carries some serious risks. IUD side effects can range from mild discomfort to severe complications.
Women who regularly experience severe menstrual cramps are not recommended the use of IUDs since these generally increase discomforts such as menstrual pain, heavy bleeding, and overall longer periods.
The risk of developing a serious pelvic infection is significantly increased if a woman experiences any type of vaginal infection while using an IUD. This is a serious concern, as it can lead to future infertility. If an IUD becomes imbedded in the uterine walls, it can cause permanent damage to the uterus, which can also lead to fertility complications. Furthermore, the use of synthetic hormones may delay the return of menstruation (which is commonly lost when using Mirena) and thus delay the return of fertility.
Other risks and birth control side effects associated with IUDs include weight gain, headaches, depression, high blood pressure, decreased sex drive, acne, and the development of ovarian cysts. The IUD also carries a 7 % risk of expulsion during the first few months after insertion, and may lead to unwanted pregnancy if the expulsion remains undetected.
Find out about the risks of taking birth control while pregnant by checking out our birth control forum.