What Every Woman Needs to Know About the IUD

Great news: The intrauterine device, or IUD, is probably a lot safer than you think. IUDs do not cause pelvic inflammatory disease, according to a joint study led by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

Researchers looked at medical data from nearly 60,000 women over four and a half years, from January 2005 to August 2009. They found that women with IUDs didn’t experience any higher rates of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) than women without IUDs. This in spite of the widely held belief that IUDs put you at greater risk of the fertility-crushing disease.

So why the common misconception? “In the 1970s and 1980’s, an IUD called the Dalkon Shield was found to increase the risk of women developing PID,” explains study author Carolyn B. Sufrin, MD, MA, of UCSF’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. “Even though the IUDs on the market now are very different devices, that misperception continued to exist among practitioners and patients. Our study disproves the link and reaffirms there is an extremely low risk of developing PID from an IUD.”

And, contrary to a long-held misperception, an IUD can be inserted in women who haven’t been pregnant before. “I recommend the IUD for any woman who wants a reliable, long-lasting, reversible birth control option,” says Deborah Ottenheimer, MD, an ob/gyn in private practice at Ottenheimer Health Care in New York City. Here’s why it’s worth it to consider and discuss with your doc at your next gynecologist appointment.

Forgetting about it is a good thing. There’s nothing worse than the stomach-sinking feeling when you realize you forgot a pill. But you don’t need to do anything about the IUD after insertion. “If you or your partner feel anything, that may be a sign that it’s not in the right place,” says Ottenheimer. The IUD is checked for proper placement at your annual gynecologist appointment, but other than that, you can leave it alone.

It doesn’t disrupt your cycle. “Unlike the pill, which creates an artificial cycle, both hormonal and non-hormonal IUDs allow you to cycle naturally,” explains Ottenheimer. What this means: It’s easy to pinpoint any period abnormalities that could clue you in to a potential problem.

It’s super effective. “Studies show an IUD is 99 percent effective at preventing unplanned pregnancy,” explains Ottenheimer. This stat is superior to other methods of birth control like the Pill, which, in practice, has about 92 percent efficacy.

It’s financially smart. In the past, spotty coverage meant that the IUD often had to be paid for out of pocket—and, at $ 700 to $ 800 for insertion, it wasn’t exactly cheap. Now that the Affordable Care Act ensures that birth control is covered, an IUD can end up less expensive over time than the equivalent cost of years of co-pays for the Pill. Since most women consider birth control an economic issue, the cost angle is hard to overlook.

It lasts a long time. “Many patients are put off by the potential pain of insertion,” says Ottenheimer. The truth: Yes, it can be crampy, but the actual procedure only takes a few minutes, your doctor will give you before-and-after meds to minimize pain, and once it’s in, it’s there for a long time. “Mirena (the hormonal option) lasts for five years and Paragard (the non-hormonal option) lasts for ten,” says Ottenheimer.

… But you can get pregnant as soon as you take it out. Even if you’re planning to start a family in the next year or two, an IUD may be the ideal for-now option. “Removal only takes a quick office visit, and it’s possible to get pregnant within twenty-four hours of having it removed,” says Ottenheimer.

photo: Photodisc/Thinkstock

More from WH:
Will Birth Control Be OTC Soon?
Which Birth Control is Right For You?
Birth Control is an Economic Issue

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