Dr. Gregory discusses IUD’s advantages for birth control and other problems

The IUD’s popularity among American women for the prevention of pregnancy has varied greatly over the last four decades. According to the Guttmacher Institute for Reproductive Health, nearly 10% of American women used an IUD in the 1970s, compared to less than 1% today. Back then, a significant number of women using one popular IUD, the Dalkon Shield, developed serious and sometimes fatal infections. The government recalled the Dalkon shield, and the resulting legal actions and negative publicity created business risk for other IUD manufacturers who then chose to remove their products from the market. Remembering these stories, your mother and women of her age group may hold very negative opinions about this birth control method.

It is interesting to note that negative perceptions of the IUD have been a mostly American phenomenon. Women here choose it for family planning less frequently than in any other developed nation. But recent research has provided a better understanding of the risks and benefits of newer IUDs. Today, a new generation of American women are beginning to choose the IUD again in greater numbers.

Women who choose an IUD over another birth control method typically want to postpone pregnancy for several years. They want the convenience of a method they don’t have to think about every day or even once a month, but they do not want permanent sterilization. The IUD is extremely effective in preventing pregnancy. IUD users have a lower risk of pregnancy than women using the birth control pill, patch, or vaginal ring. The IUD is not permanent contraception. If you decide to become pregnant, you will simply ask your doctor to remove the IUD.

The previous generation of IUDs often caused increased cramping or heavier periods. But new hormonal devices release a tiny amount of a projestin hormone so that over a few months periods usually become shorter, lighter, or may stop altogether. The projestin effect makes hormonal IUDs a good birth control choice for women who experience painful periods or heavy bleeding. Besides several hormonal IUD brands, women have another IUD choice known by the brand name ParaGard®. ParaGard® is not a hormonal IUD, and so it does not offer these advantages. It is more suitable for women who want the effectiveness and convenience of an IUD, but for whom hormones are not recommended.

No method of birth control is a good choice for every woman. Your gynecologist will help you to consider risks and benefits and determine the best option for you individually. You can read more about who is a good candidate for IUD use and some of its risks including possible infection in the patient FAQ “Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC): IUD and Implant” from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But for women who want very convenient and effective long-term birth control, especially those who struggle with menstrual pain or heavy bleeding, hormonal IUDs like SkylaTM  or Mirena® may provide an answer.