An intrauterine device, or IUD, is a birth control device that provides effective, long-term protection against unwanted pregnancy. The IUD is a small, plastic, t-shaped device that’s inserted into your vagina and your uterus. To monitor its status, a small string is attached to the device, which hangs down through your cervix, allowing you to check that your IUD is still in position.
While an IUD’s basic structure is the same, there are two distinctly different ways in which they work to prevent pregnancy, and they are:
The hormonal IUD slowly releases a form of progestin called levonorgestrel, which stops pregnancy in three ways:
Hormonal IUDs last for three to five years.
With a copper IUD, copper is wrapped around the stem of the device because it’s toxic to sperm — the copper signals your uterus and fallopian tubes to secrete a substance that kills sperm. A copper IUD can last up to 10 years and is considered a highly effective form of birth control.
Since IUDs work in two different ways, there are side effects unique to each. If you’re allergic to copper, clearly a hormonal device would be better. Conversely, if you don’t want to interfere with your hormone levels, a copper IUD may be the perfect solution.
Breaking down the side effects of each, patients have reported the following:
Hormonal: The side effects associated with the hormonal IUD are not common, and if they do exist, most clear up within a few months (these side effects are the same no matter which birth control method you use that regulates hormones):
Copper: Some cases of increased menstrual bleeding and bleeding between periods have been reported.
With both versions of the IUD, there are potential risks that the IUD may tear your uterus during insertion, or your body may expel the IUD, but these risks are not common.
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