Copper IUD: Is it for you?

Intrauterine devices (IUD) are an increasingly popular form of birth control. A copper IUD offers long-term birth control benefits.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are an increasingly popular form of birth control. The devices offer long-term, reversible birth control that can last from three to 10 years depending on the IUD type. The copper IUD is gaining in popularity as a nonhormonal IUD option and can be inserted for up to 10 years. What is a copper IUD, and is it for you?

Copper IUD: What is it?

The copper IUD (Paragard) is a T-shaped plastic frame that has copper wire coiled around the frame. When inserted in the uterus, the copper IUD creates an inflammatory process that is toxic to eggs (ova) and sperm, preventing pregnancy. Paragard can be inserted for up to 10 years. Paragard is the only copper IUD available in the U.S.

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Benefits of a copper IUD

A copper IUD can be inserted by a gynecologist or OB/GYN in premenopausal people of all ages. Some people choose a copper IUD for benefits including:

  • Long-lasting pregnancy protection: A copper IUD is one of the longest-lasting forms of birth control available. Plus, a copper IUD is one of the most effective methods of birth control (99% effective), working as well as sterilization and the birth control implant.
  • Convenience: There’s no need to go to a pharmacy for refills, nothing to do to prepare for sex to prevent pregnancy, no having to remember to take a pill. Once inserted, an IUD stays in place until its expiration and needs removal or until you ask for it to be removed before expiration.
  • Reversible birth control: You can have an IUD removed at any time at try to get pregnant. IUD use does not affect a person’s fertility; it’s possible to get pregnant soon after an IUD removal.
  • Nonhormonal birth control: Some prefer nonhormonal birth control to avoid the side effects or risks of hormonal birth control, such as blood clots. Other people have medical reasons for needing nonhormonal birth control. Paragard is the only nonhormonal IUD option available in the U.S.
  • Nursing parents can use: A parent can nurse a baby with a copper IUD inserted.
  • Emergency contraception: A copper IUD is one of the most effective forms of emergency contraception (99% effective) and can be inserted within five days (120 hours) after having unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.

Who can get a copper IUD?

While premenopausal people with a uterus may be eligible for a copper IUD, some issues may prevent the copper IUD from being a good birth control choice for you. A copper IUD may not be right for you if:

  • You have uterine or cervical cancer.
  • You have a pelvic infection, such as pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • You have Wilson’s disease, a condition that can cause copper to accumulate in your liver, brain or other vital organs.
  • You have unexplained vaginal bleeding.
  • You have uterine issues, such as uterine fibroids, that can interfere with IUD placement

Copper IUD side effects and risks

  • Pregnancy: It is uncommon for people using a copper IUD to become pregnant in the first year of insertion (less than 1%). However, if a person does become pregnant while using a copper IUD, they are at a high risk of an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, often in a fallopian tube. However, the risk of an ectopic pregnancy is lower for copper IUD users than it is for sexually active people with uteruses who don’t use birth control methods.
  • Device expulsion: It is possible for your body to expel the copper IUD. You may not feel it if your body expels the device. A person may be more likely to expel a copper IUD if:
    • They have never been pregnant.
    • They have heavy or prolonged periods.
    • They experience severe pain during menstruation.
    • They have previously expelled an IUD of any type.
    • They are younger than age 25.
    • Their IUD was inserted after giving birth.
  • A copper IUD doesn’t prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs): It is still possible to contract STIs while using a copper IUD.

“If you are interested in a copper IUD or other options for birth control, talk to an OB/GYN,” said Alexandra Blinchevsky, M.D., OB/GYN with Norton Women’s Specialists. “It’s good to talk about what you’re looking for out of a contraception method and why. There are risks and benefits to every type of contraception, and an OB/GYN provider is best equipped to handle that discussion.”

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