The methods most people use for medical treatment don’t always coincide with what doctors recommend. Such is the case in a recent survey conducted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which showed that although IUDs (intrauterine devices) are among the most effective modes of birth control, they rank 5th in usage among American women, after the pill, tubectomies (tube-tying), condoms, and vasectomies. Among gynecologists and obstetricians, however, these devices are used three times as much as they are among their patients. This begs the question: why do so many women opt out of the method their doctors are using themselves?
How it Works
IUDs are small, T-shaped pieces of plastic, often wrapped in copper wiring and typically no longer than a match. The device is placed inside the womb and works simply by interfering with the uterine functions so that pregnancy cannot occur. The three main interferences lie in:
- Blocking sperm from entering the uterus
- Altering cervical secretions to further obstruct the sperm
- Interfering with the womb’s lining to prevent the egg from adhering to the uterine wall
The process of insertion only takes about 10 minutes, and most IUDs will last about 5-10 years before needing to be replaced. There may be some discomfort or slight pain during insertion.
- Not only is the IUD a reversible way of preventing pregnancy, it is hands-down the most effective mode of reversible birth control.
- Some IUDs are non-hormonal, which is beneficial to the many women who cannot take hormones, like estrogen or progesterone, due to preexisting health issues. Non-hormonal IUDs also provide alternatives for women facing the emotional, mental, and physical damage that can be caused by hormonal birth control.
- Women who use hormonal supplements, like birth control, for health reasons (mitigating PMS symptoms, treating acne, etc) can still use hormonal IUDs, like Mirena, which reduce or even eliminate menstruation. Hormonal IUDs also have the advantage of directing hormones (levonorgesterel, in this case) to the uterine area, whereas the pill does not localize them.
- Unlike nearly every other contraceptive technique, IUDs last for years and can be replaced very quickly, making the whole process far less stressful.
The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in May of 2012 comparing the effectiveness of IUDs to other types of birth control. After observing 7,500 women on various forms of birth control for three years, the researchers found that the results spoke for themselves: while 9.4% of the women using other methods, like the pill, vaginal rings, and patches, got pregnant by accident, less than 1% of the subjects using intrauterine devices got pregnant.
Part of the problem, of course, lies in human error. It’s quite easy to mess up taking oral contraceptives at precisely the same time every day, and women will often miss one occasionally. Condoms are also not infallible, as they can tear or be forgotten in the heat of the moment. In contrast, IUDs act on their own, last for years, and need little attention.
However, even the most enthusiastic gynecologists know that IUD’s are not for everyone. Make sure to consult your OB/GYN if:
- You have a copper allergy or sensitivity
- You have an STD, STI, or pelvic infection
- You experience unexplained bleeding that is not related to your period
- You have a heart valve problem
- Your cervix or womb has some kind of structural abnormality
- You have previously had an ectopic pregnancy (when the embryo is implanted anywhere outside of the uterus, including the Fallopian tubes, cervix, abdomen, or ovaries)
- There is any possibility that you might be pregnant
Besides these exceptions, intrauterine devices are proven to be the safest, most effective, and non-intrusive kinds of birth control, explaining why gynecologists all over the U.S. prefer to use them. Find out more about IUDs, STDs and gynecologists around the country at Gynecologists.com.