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Should You Use the Intrauterine Device (IUD)?

Learn about the pros and cons of the two various IUD methods of birth control.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD
4-minute read

The Hormone-Containing IUD

This IUD contains a progesterone-only hormone called levonorgestrel that is slowly released into the uterus over a five-year time period.  It is about 99% effective in preventing pregnancy in several main ways:

  • the hormone thins out the lining of the uterus, making pregnancy unlikely

  • it also thickens cervical mucus and prevents the sperm from traveling into the uterus and fertilizing the egg

  • it may also prevent the implantation of the egg into the uterus, although not its main mechanism of prevention

This hormone-containing IUD lasts five years, and because it thins out the lining of the uterus, it may cause your periods to become very light or even non-existent.  It is especially useful for those women who have very heavy periods and want to lighten them. However, if you typically get mental relief each month when you get your period, then this IUD is probably not the ideal method for you.  Lastly, because there is no estrogen in this IUD, it’s a good option for women who are breastfeeding. 

The Copper-Containing IUD

This IUD doesn’t contain any hormones and is instead made of copper.  It’s a good option for women who don’t do well with hormonal contraceptive methods, who have a health condition in which hormonal contraceptives are not recommended, or who are breastfeeding. It is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, by two main methods:

  • it thickens the cervical mucus and prevents the sperm from traveling into the uterus and fertilizing the egg

  • it may also prevent the implantation of the egg into the uterus

This copper IUD lasts up to ten years, but like both IUD types, it can be removed at any time.  The copper IUD doesn’t typically change the normal female cycle, however, it may cause heavier periods in some.  So if your periods are already rather heavy, it may not be the right option for you. 

What Are the Risks of IUDs?

Though IUDs have many pluses, they aren’t without risks, including the following:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease: The IUD has a possibly very slight increased risk of causing an infection of the pelvis called pelvic inflammatory disease (or PID).  PID is more risky in those with multiple sexual partners, and if severe enough, it can increase risk of infertility.

  • Perforations: The IUD insertion procedure itself can carry a very rare risk of creating a hole, called a perforation of the uterus.  When this happens, you need an emergency repair the same day.

  • Danger of being expelled: Rarely the IUD may expel out of the uterus on its own.  If this happens, you need to call your doctor right away and use a back up method of birth control in the meantime.

Lastly, it is important to remember that neither IUD methods protect against HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.  So please use a condom each and every time.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.