IUD Copper Coil Contraceptive
If you’ve ever wondered ‘what is the IUD?’, the acronym stands for intrauterine device. An intrauterine device (IUD) is a T-shaped copper and plastic object that is inserted into the womb by a trained medical professional. It is also known as the ‘coil’ or ‘copper coil’ because it works by releasing copper into your body. Due to the similar names, it can sometimes be confused with the intrauterine system (IUS) which prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones.
The IUD can be used as a form of emergency contraception, however it shouldn’t be used if you suspect you are already pregnant. If you use it as emergency contraception, it can be left in and you can then use it as your regular method of contraception. An IUD can protect against pregnancy for 5 to 10 years, depending on the type.
How the IUD works
Although there are different IUD types, they all work in more or less the same way. The IUD works by releasing copper into the uterus. Copper thickens the cervical mucus, making it hard for sperm to reach an egg. It can also stop a fertilised egg from being able to implant itself.
If you’re 40 or older, you can have the IUD fitted and it could remain there until menopause, or until you don’t need contraception any more.
How the IUD is fitted
As long as you’re not pregnant, the IUD contraceptive can be fitted at any point in your menstrual cycle. It provides immediate protection against pregnancy, so you won’t need to use additional contraception once you’ve had it fitted. It is worth noting however, the IUD does not prevent against STIs. To prevent STIs, a barrier method such as a condom would also need to be used.
The procedure of fitting the IUD should only take around 5 minutes, and the appointment as a whole should be around 20 to 30 minutes long. Before they fit the IUD, your doctor or nurse will examine you to determine the size and positioning of your womb. You might have some tests for sexually transmitted infections. If necessary, you’ll be given treatment.
If you find the fitting uncomfortable or painful, you can have an injected local anaesthetic to ease the discomfort. You should always tell your doctor or nurse if you’re in pain. You may also feel cramp-like pain after the IUD is fitted, and you may be advised to take painkillers to deal with this. Additionally, you may bleed for a few days after the procedure.
Once the IUD has been fitted, you might be advised to get it checked 3 to 6 weeks later by a GP to make sure all is well. If you experience any issues after this check, or if you decide you want to have the IUD removed, contact your GP. If you aren’t having another IUD fitted, but you don’t want to get pregnant at this time, you’ll need to use additional contraception for 7 days before it is removed.
Who can use the IUD?
IUDs are suitable for the majority of people with a uterus. However, you will be asked about your medical history so your doctor or nurse can be sure whether or not the IUD is right for you. It might not be the best option for you if you:
- Have unexplained bleeding after sex or between periods
- Have issues with your cervix or womb
- Have a pelvic infection or untreated STI
- Suspect you might be pregnant
If you’ve had an artificial heart valve fitted, or you’ve had an ectopic pregnancy before, you should consult your clinician or doctor before having the IUD fitted.
Women who have recently had a baby can have the IUD put in 4 weeks after childbirth. You’ll need to use an alternative method of contraception from 21 days (3 weeks) after the birth until the IUD is inserted to protect yourself against pregnancy. In certain cases, an IUD may be fitted within 2 days of giving birth. If this applies to you, your birth team will discuss it with you.
It is safe to use the IUD while breastfeeding. Your lactation and milk supply won’t be affected.
If you’ve had a miscarriage or abortion, an IUD can be fitted immediately by an experienced doctor or nurse. You’ll be protected against pregnancy straight away and won’t need to use additional contraception.
How effective is the IUD?
IUDs are more than 99% effective when put in correctly. This means fewer than 1 in 100 women using this form of contraception will get pregnant in a given year. However, IUD effectiveness can be impacted by certain factors, including its position.
When you have your IUD fitted, your nurse or doctor will show you how to check if it is in the right position. Your IUD will have two strings that you should be able to feel inside your vagina. You should check for these on a regular basis as instructed by your doctor or nurse. If you can’t feel them, or if the IUD feels like it’s moved, you should consult your doctor. You’ll need to use alternative contraception until your IUD has been checked.
Common side effects of the IUD
IUD side effects differ from those of hormonal contraceptives because it uses copper to prevent pregnancy instead. Because of this, you shouldn’t experience side effects like headaches, breast tenderness or acne. The IUD also isn’t affected by any medications, and it’s not believed to increase your risk of cancers of the uterus, ovaries or cervix.
However, some people experience heavier, longer or more painful periods after the IUD is fitted. This may get better after a few months. You may also be at a greater risk of developing a pelvic infection if you get an STI. The IUD does not offer protection against STIs, so you may still need to use a barrier contraceptive such as female condoms.
Risks of using the IUD
Having the IUD fitted poses a small risk of developing a pelvic infection in the following month or so. You should see your doctor if you’ve had an IUD fitted and feel tenderness or pain in the lower section of your abdomen, you have an unusually high temperature, or if you have smelly or otherwise abnormal discharge. It has also been suggested that the IUD can also make it a little bit more likely that you could get thrush that keeps returning.
When the IUD is fitted, there is a very small possibility that there may be some damage to your womb. Having an experienced doctor or nurse insert it should limit this risk, but you should see a doctor if you feel pain or can’t feel the strings of your IUD. You may need surgery to have it removed.
Finally, if you get pregnant while using the IUD, there is a greater risk that the pregnancy will be ectopic.
Where to get the IUD
The IUD can be accessed from:
- GP surgeries
- Contraception clinics
- Some young people’s services
- Genitourinary medicine (GUM) or sexual health clinics