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IUDs: Hormonal vs. Copper – Which is Right for Me?

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

An IUD, or interuterine device, is designed to provide safe and continuously effective birth control for healthy women. It lasts multiple years, and requires no maintenance. If you believe an IUD is the right family-planning option for you, there are options – both hormonal and non-hormonal IUDs.

What is an IUD?

Basically, an IUD looks like a small, plastic T-shape with a string attached. It’s placed inside your uterus by your OB/GYN. There are two main types of IUDs; both of these damage or kill sperm and thicken the cervical mucus, preventing sperm from reaching the egg and limiting fertilization.

An IUD is a fully-reversible form of birth control, but it does have some minor risks, including uterine perforation at the time of insertion and accidental expulsion. There is also a risk of pelvic inflammatory disease if you have an STD at the time of insertion of an IUD. This can be tested for prior to the insertion.

Hormonal IUDs

Mirena IUDCurrently, hormonal IUDs are represented on the market by the brands Mirena and Skyla. These IUDs release a small amount of progestin, a synthetic hormone that kills sperm and makes the uterine lining (endometrium) thinner so that the environment inside is not conducive to the growth of a fertilized egg. Both IUD brands have been known to reduce menstrual bleeding and cramping.

Hormonal IUDs may also protect against conditions such as endometrial cancer and endometriosis. There are some side effects, however, including the formation of benign cysts in the ovaries, which usually go away on their own.

Hormonal IUDs may (rarely) also cause acne, breast tenderness, mood swings and headaches, just like birth control pills – especially within the first few months after insertion. Skyla, the smallest IUD on the market, is recommended for women who have not have children yet, and works for three years. Mirena is approved for five years.

Non-Hormonal Copper IUDs

Copper IUDCopper IUDs, currently available under the ParaGuard name, do the same job through a copper wire wrapped around the T-shape.

Copper acts as a spermicide; copper ions kill sperm and triggers an immune response that creates a hostile environment for both sperm and eggs. Copper IUDs may also disrupt the formation of eggs.

The main disadvantage of copper IUDs is that they may actually increase your menstrual flow and cramping, and women who already have heavy periods may not be able to tolerate one. However, they can be used as emergency contraception, and remain effective in your body for upwards of 10 years.

IUDs remain a safe and dependable form of birth control, although each version has its advantages and disadvantages, and may be covered under your insurance plan.

You should consult Dr. Tsakiris to help determine whether hormonal IUDs or copper ones are right for you and your family.