An Intrauterine Device (IUD) is a small device made from plastic and copper. Previously known as 'the coil', it can be placed quite easily into the uterus (womb) by a trained doctor or nurse. Although highly effective, problems can arise.
Modern IUDs can be over 99% effective, meaning that no more than 1 woman per 100 will become pregnant each year using this method of contraception.
Advantages of the IUD include:
An IUD is usually fitted towards the end of a period or shortly after. However, it can be fitted at any time provided that you are certain you are not pregnant. You will need to have a vaginal examination; the doctor or nurse will pass a small instrument into your uterus to check its size and position. An IUD is then fitted. You will be taught how to feel the threads of the IUD so you can check it is in place. It is best to check the threads regularly, for example, once a month just after a period.
Fitting an IUD can sometimes be uncomfortable. Once the IUD has been inserted some women have crampy pains like period pains for a few hours afterwards. These can be eased by painkillers such as paracetamol. Light vaginal bleeding may also occur for a short while.
The doctor or nurse will usually want to check that there are no problems a few weeks after fitting an IUD. After this, an annual check is typical. Most women have no problems, and the IUD can remain in place for several years.
An IUD can be removed at any time by a trained doctor or nurse. If you plan to have it removed, but do not want to get pregnant, then use other methods of contraception (such as condoms) for 7 days before it is removed. This is because sperm can last up to 7 days in the uterus and can fertilize an egg after the IUD is removed.
You can use sanitary towels or tampons for periods with an IUD in place.
Most women with an IUD have no problems, but the following occasionally occur:
Infection. There is a small risk of an infection of the uterus (pelvic infection). The main risk is within the first 20 days after insertion, so a check for infection of the vagina or cervix may be advised before an IUD is inserted. An IUD is not advisable if you have previously had a pelvic infection.
The risk of a pelvic infection from a sexually-transmitted infection is also greater in women with a IUD, so women who are at greater risk for getting a sexually-transmitted infection (for example, having more than one sexual partner) may wish to avoid IUDs.
Consult a doctor if any of the following occur:
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