November 02, 2012

Long-Term Methods of Birth Control: IUDs

Paragard IUD
An intrauterine device, more commonly known as an IUD, is a T-shaped device that is inserted in to the uterus to prevent pregnancy. The two brands available in the United States are Mirena (effective for five years) and ParaGard (effective for twelve years). Many people like this method because it's cost-effective (there is an initial cost, but it lasts for years), it is extremely effective in preventing pregnancy, the ability to become pregnant returns quickly once the IUD is removed, and there's no need to pause in the heat of the moment to grab protection.

Mirena IUD
Both the ParaGard and the Mirena IUDs work mainly by thickening the cervical mucus, making it difficult for the sperm to swim and preventing them from reaching the eggs. If sperm cannot join with an egg, pregnancy cannot happen. Mirena may also prevent pregnancy by preventing your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation).

While the two forms of IUD are largely similar, Mirena and ParaGard each have a few unique properties. ParaGard is made of copper and does not contain hormones. It can be used for up to twelve years to prevent pregnancy and can also be inserted as emergency contraception. It cannot be used by people who have a copper allergy or people with Wilson's Disease (a disease that blocks the body’s ability to get rid of copper).  Mirena contains the hormone progestin, is made of plastic, and can be used to prevent pregnancy for up to five years. Due to the hormones, it may reduce period cramps and make your period lighter; on average, menstrual flow is reduced by 90 percent. For some, periods stop altogether!

An IUD is inserted into the uterus, and its threads hang from the cervix into the vagina.  
An intrauterine device is inserted in to the uterus by a doctor. This usually causes pain or discomfort, as well as some light bleeding. It's often recommended that you take it easy for the rest of the day after the procedure. 

To ensure that your IUD remains in place, two thin strings (or "threads") hang down through the cervix in to the beginning of the vaginal canal. You must check on the strings with your fingers by reaching into your vagina and feeling around for them; you will not be able to feel them otherwise. During PIV intercourse, your partner may initially be able to feel the strings a bit. However, the strings get softer with time. If this continues to be a problem, a health care provider is able to trim the strings shorter.

The IUD is one of the most effective forms of birth control there is. Less than 1 out of 100 people will get pregnant each year if they use the ParaGard or Mirena IUD.
It's important to keep in mind that an IUD does not protect you from STIs. Unless you are in a relationship where you know for a fact that everyone involved has been tested and is free of STIs, you should still use a condom when having sex.

Intrauterine devices are one of the most effective forms of birth control available. They are common in much of the world, other than the United States -- however, popularity is increasing. More and more medical groups are recommending IUDs as a first contraceptive method over more traditional methods.


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