Medical Program Assistant | Mental Health Services
The IUD is a small, t-shaped device made of flexible material that your health care provider inserts into your uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two different types of IUDs available at UHS: one with hormones and one without. Both are safe, effective, and provide protection for 3-12 years, depending on the device selected. The copper (ParaGard) and hormonal (Mirena) IUDs are available at UHS. ParaGard is made of natural, safe copper, contains no hormones, and makes your periods a little crampier and heavier than your natural period. Mirena prevents pregnancy by releasing a small dose of the synthetic hormone progestin, which thickens a woman’s cervical mucus and thins the uterine lining making periods lighter, shorter, and less crampy than natural periods.
Though the two forms offer protection via different methods, they both work by affecting how the sperm moves and altering the uterine lining to prevent implantation. This effectively prevents pregnancy with a failure of 1/1000, is as effective as tubal litigation or vasectomy, and is completely reversible as soon as it is removed.
IUDs boast several advantages over other methods of birth control.
- Effectiveness: A 99 percent effective rate means IUDs are one of the most reliable forms of birth control.
- Safety: IUDs are extremely safe. Complications are rare, and serious side effects occurred in less than one percent of women in a May 2013 study.
- Long-lasting: Both ParaGard and Mirena offer long-term alternatives to other birth control methods. After insertion, ParaGard lasts for 12 years, Mirena for five.
“They’re forgettable, they’re highly effective, and you don’t know it’s there,” says Jenny Higgins, a professor in the UW-Madison Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. Higgins says the IUD is also a popular alternative for women who sometimes forget to take their birth control pills as scheduled. According to Mary Landry, gynecologist at UW Health and UHS, the IUD is also an attractive option because of its ease during extended travel abroad or when there is uncertainty about one’s post-graduation insurance situation, as there is no need for prescriptions or trips to a pharmacy.
There are other benefits as well. Some evidence supports the notion that IUDs may improve your sex drive. Higgins notes this can likely be attributed to an increased feeling of security in women.
The IUD has an uneven history in the United States. IUD use rose in the 1950s, which encouraged manufacturers to develop a plethora of IUDs in different shapes and sizes. One such product was the Dalkon Shield, which caused cases of bacterial infection in some women and prompted lawsuits. Though it was quickly removed from the marketplace, the stigma associated with the Dalkon Shield lingered for years.
But Higgins stresses that there’s no cause for concern with modern-day iterations of the IUD.
“Because of the Dalkon Shield, we understandably had a really bad rap with IUDs in this country,” she says. “In countries like France, where they never had the Dalkon Shield, the IUD has been the most popular contraceptive method for decades, and we see no long-term safety effects there.”
The up-front cost of an IUD might seem steep at first. But in the long run, it is the most affordable option available. The total expense for insertion varies between ParaGard and Mirena; visit www.uhs.wisc.edu/appointments/costs/prices.shtml for more information. Another hormonal IUD, Liletta, was recently introduced in the U.S. marketplace and is a great alternative for students with insurance networks out-of-state or with high deductible health savings accounts – ask your health care provider if it might be a good option for you. Liletta works in a way similar to Mirena, but is potentially available to you at a much lower cost.
So what should you expect as you prepare for IUD insertion? First, you need to visit your health care provider or request an electronic IUD consult to be sent to your secure MyUHS account in lieu of a provider consult visit. To make an appointment with UHS, just call 608-265-5600 or use your MyUHS account. Once you arrive at your appointment, the clinician will provide individualized information once you have shared what benefits or concerns are most important to you.
Next comes the insertion process itself. Higgins says many patients are understandably apprehensive about insertion.
“A lot of women have insertion fears, and this is a big block,” Higgins says. “The cervix is a dense, very sensitive piece of tissue. So I get it.”
Higgins references the “It’s Worth It” phrase that health care providers relate to their patients – five minutes of cramping in exchange for five years of pregnancy prevention. Women should always be aware that the decision to insert an IUD is easily reversible whenever they would like to have it removed.