Teach Me

Birth Control: Is an IUD a Smart Choice for You?

Many couples find that as they decide whether they want to have children and they plan the size of their families, they need to reevaluate their birth control options. If you don’t think you’ll try to get pregnant in the near future, you might want to consider an intrauterine device (IUD).

IUDs are T-shaped devices about as big as a quarter that a health care professional can place in your uterus. They are more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Some women also choose IUDs to help control heavy menstrual periods. “IUDs are an effective long-term birth control method that require very little attention,” said Amy Snell, a women’s health nurse practitioner at Banner Health Clinic in Page, AZ.

If you decide you would like an IUD, you can choose between two types—nonhormonal or hormonal IUDs:

  • Nonhormonal (copper) IUDs work for a long time. Nonhormonal IUDs contain copper, which helps prevent sperm from reaching the egg and implanting in the uterus. These IUDs may lead to heavier menstrual periods and cramping at first. Over time your periods should return to normal. Nonhormonal IUDs last for 10 years.
  • Hormonal IUDs can help manage heavy periods. Hormonal IUDs contain the hormone progestin. The device itself helps prevent the sperm and the egg from uniting. Plus, the progesterone thins the lining of the uterus. Your periods may be irregular at first, then become light or stop completely within three to six months. Talk to your doctor if you are considering an IUD to help control your menstrual cycle. Hormonal IUDs last for three to six years depending on their level of hormones.

Here’s what to know before you get an IUD

With both types of IUDs, your health care provider can insert the device in an office visit. After it’s positioned, a small string extends from the IUD through your cervix and into the top of your vagina. Once a month, you should feel the IUD strings to check that it is still in place. Your health care provider will also likely check your IUD placement a month after you have it inserted.

While you may not notice any side effects, you may experience varying levels of discomfort or pain. It's a good idea to set aside a day to recover as a precaution. Many women have cramping for a few hours after the IUD is inserted. You can take ibuprofen to help control the pain. Once the cramping eases up you shouldn’t notice or feel your IUD.

Most insurance companies cover the cost of IUDs, but you may need preauthorization. You’ll want to check your coverage before scheduling your insertion.

For some people, other birth control options are preferable

“IUDs are an excellent long-term option,” Snell said. But they aren’t the right choice for everyone. They aren’t recommended if you:

  • Have an active liver tumor
  • Have pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or signs of pelvic infection, including infections related to childbirth, sexually transmitted infections, or abortion
  • Are pregnant
  • Have unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • Are planning to try to become pregnant soon

The bottom line? An IUD could be a great birth-control choice for you. But there are a lot of options available. “While IUDs are an excellent long-term option, you should consider all types of birth control and have a thoughtful discussion with your health care provider,” Snell said.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor or a Banner Health specialist to discuss your options for birth control and family planning. To find a doctor, visit bannerhealth.com.

Related articles:

Gynecology Pregnancy Sexual Health Women's Health