IUD (Intrauterine Device for Birth Control)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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How is an IUD inserted?

IUDs are only available by prescription and must be properly inserted by a health-care professional. A pelvic exam is required to insert an IUD, similar to the procedure for having a Pap test. The IUD is inserted into the uterus long as the woman is not pregnant.

The IUD is a small "T"-shaped device with a monofilament tail that is inserted into the uterus by a health-care practitioner in the office setting. When inserted into the uterus, the arms of the "T" are folded down, but they then open out to form the top of the "T." The device rests inside the uterus with the base of the T just above the cervix and the arms of the T extending horizontally across the uterus. A short piece of monofilament string attached to the IUD extends through the cervix into the vagina. This string makes it possible to be sure that the IUD is still in the uterus.

How soon does an IUD start working?

The IUD begins working to prevent pregnancy as soon as it is inserted, but full protection is believed to take about seven days in some cases, depending on when in the menstrual cycle it is inserted. If you have an IUD inserted within seven days of ending your menstrual period, it should be effective right away. At any other time in the menstrual cycle, you should use another method of birth control for the first week after insertion.

How long does an IUD last?

The copper-containing IUD can be left in place for up to 10 years, and the hormonal IUDs can remain for three or five years, depending upon the type of IUD.

How is an IUD removed?

An IUD must be removed by a health-care professional. It is very important that a woman not attempt to remove an IUD on her own, as serious problems may result. IUD removal is carried out by determining the position of the uterus, then locating and grasping the stings of the IUD with a special forceps or clamp. A health-care professional will then remove the IUD by gentle traction on the strings.

Occasionally, the strings of the IUD will not be located. In these situations, the strings have often slipped higher into the cervical canal. A health-care professional can use special instruments to locate the strings and/or remove the IUD. Complications of IUD removal are rare, and removal can take place at any time. Some studies have shown that removal is easier during the menstrual period, when a woman's cervix is typically softer than during other times in the menstrual cycle.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/25/2016

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