Intrauterine Device (IUD): Six things you may not know

By |2020-05-29T13:36:00+10:00January 22nd, 2020|

IUDs, or intrauterine devices, are one of the most reliable methods of contraception available. In fact, they are the most effective reversible contraception on the market. Plus, you don’t have to worry about remembering to take the pill or using a condom.

IUDs aren’t, however, a popular form of contraception. Some doctors are hesitant to discuss them with their patients, especially young women, because they think they will be uninterested or unwilling to give them a go. But they are a convenient, effective form of birth control you should consider.

Here are six things you may not know about IUDs:

There are two types of IUDs, both of which provide reliable, effective forms of contraception

One is the copper IUD, which is one of the few hormone free methods of contraception and, depending upon the type, can last for up to 10 years. The copper IUD has thin strands of copper twisted around it, which affects sperm and makes them less able to fertilise an egg and also less likely to implant in the womb.

The other type is the hormonal IUD, only one of which is currently available in Australia, the Mirena®, which lasts for up to five years. This slowly releases the hormone progesterone into the womb, which has the effect of making it harder for sperm to fertilize the egg and also thins the lining of the womb, making the egg less likely to implant.

IUDs can be used by women who have never had children 

It used to be a common belief, even among many doctors, that IUD were not a suitable contraceptive choice for women who have not had children. While it can be a slightly more difficult fit and may cause more pain at the time of insertion (compared with women who have had babies), IUDs are perfectly suited to women who haven’t gone through pregnancy.  The vast majority of IUD insertions are successful, and most women report the pain as acceptable.

The majority of IUD can easily be fitted in the comfort and convenience of the doctor’s surgery

Although the fitting of an IUD can be uncomfortable, the process itself only takes about 5-10 minutes, and is easily done in the treatment room of your doctor’s surgery. Rarely, the insertion can prove too difficult and some people require a general anaesthetic in order to have the IUD fitted.

The risk of an ectopic pregnancy is not increased with an IUD in place

An ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilised egg implants outside the uterus, and can lead to life threatening blood loss. It used to be thought that the risk of this happening was higher with an IUD in place. More recent evidence shows that having an IUD does not increase the risk of an ectopic pregnancy when compared to women without an IUD.  Because the IUD is so good at preventing an intrauterine pregnancy, if you do fall pregnant with an IUD in place then there is a higher chance that it could be an ectopic pregnancy. In this case, an early ultrasound scan must be performed to check if this is the case.

The Mirena® can also be used for heavy periods

After twelve months of having a Mirena® fitted, over 50% of women report not having periods, which makes it an ideal option for women who also suffer from heavy and/or painful periods. It can also be used for this purpose even if you do not need contraception. The use of the Mirena® in this situation has dramatically reduced the need for hysterectomy and, in one study, over two thirds of women who had a Mirena® inserted while on the waiting list for a hysterectomy ended up cancelling their operation.

The Copper IUD can be used as an emergency contraception

As well as the morning after pill, the copper IUD (but not the Mirena®) can be used as an emergency contraceptive, provided it is fitted within five days of having unprotected sex. It is more effective at preventing pregnancy than the morning after pill and is then left in place, providing ongoing contraceptive cover.

If you are interested in having an IUD fitted or removed, or simply want to find out more about them, don’t hesitate to book an appointment online with Yarra Medical’s Dr Liz Morris, and have a look at our IUD page for fees and more information. Liz is an experienced GP with a special interest in women’s health, family planning and pregnancy. She’ll take you through the process step by step and answer any questions you might have. Before you go ahead with a fitting, you’ll need a prescription to purchase an IUD from a pharmacy.

For more information on IUDs, have a look at this excellent Better Health page.