What Does an IUD Look Like?

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An IUD, or Intrauterine Device, is a device used for long term birth control. Although IUDs earned a bad reputation in the 1970s, the IUDs of today are small, safe and very effective. In the United States, there are two different IUDs available, which work in a similar way, but with slight differences that may affect which the patient chooses.

How IUDs Work

Both types of IUDs prevent pregnancy by preventing the fertilization of the egg by killing or damaging the sperm before it has a chance to reach the egg. The T-shape also disrupts the lining of the uterus making it unlikely a fertilized egg could implant or grow.

Levonorgestrel IUD

The Levonorgestrel IUD, commonly known as the Mirena, is a small T-shaped plastic device that constantly releases low levels of a form of progestin (a hormone) known as levonorgestrel. The hormone released makes the mucus in the cervix thick and sticky so that sperm cannot get through to the uterus. The hormone also prevents the lining of the uterus from growing, therefore making it an undesirable environment for a fertilized egg. This IUD is effective for up to 5 years.

Mirena IUD
Mirena IUD

Copper IUD

The Copper IUD, marketed as the Paragard, is also a small T-shaped plastic device, but this one has copper wrapped around the stem. The copper on the IUD stimulates the fallopian tubes and uterus to secrete a fluid that contains white blood cells, copper ions, prostaglandins and other enzymes. Since copper is toxic to sperm, this IUD makes the entire environment uninviting for sperm who will die before ever finding an egg. This IUD is effective for up to 10 years.

Copper IUD
Copper IUD

Insertion

For either IUD, the insertion process is the same. It must be done by a doctor in the office and can be done in just a few minutes. The IUD is inserted using a sheath, similar to a tampon applicator. In the sheath the IUD is in a straight line. This sheath is inserted through the cervix; the IUD is then pushed through the sheath into place in the uterus, and the arms pop up forming the T-shape. The sheath is then removed.

Who Can Use and IUD?

An IUD is ideal for any woman that wishes to prevent pregnancy long term. Women who have already had at least one child are the best candidates, as those who have not had children have a higher incidence of the IUD being expelled soon after insertion. The IUD does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, so it is preferred that the woman is in a committed relationship. Before opting for an IUD, check with your doctor to discuss any issues or complications that could arise.

Advantages

An IUD is a very effective method of birth control. It is easy to use and does not require any daily or even monthly maintenance. Even though the insertion must be paid for, it is cost effective since it lasts for either 5 or 10 years. An IUD can also help with cramping and heavy menstrual flow and even lower the risk of ectopic pregnancy (an advantage of only the Mirena IUD). When the woman decides she is ready to have a baby, the IUD can be removed and there is no recovery time before she can start trying to become pregnant. This small T-shaped piece of plastic is a great alternative for many women looking for effective birth control.

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