How Does an IUD Work? Your Complete Guide to IUDs
Updated October 2021
IUDs are trending, as they are slowly becoming one of the most popular forms of birth control in America. This is mainly due to the convenience of not having to worry about birth control for up to 10 years.
However, many women may still wonder: How does an IUD work?
We’ve got all the information you need on IUDs as an effective form of birth control and how to determine if it’s the right choice for you.
We’re also tackling some questions that, well, may be a bit embarrassing (although there’s no reason to be embarrassed when you’re talking to us about your health!)
“We believe in an individual approach to medicine, and we know that one type of birth control isn’t right for every patient,” said Dr. Hardison. “However, we have found that IUDs satisfy the needs of many patients, and we are happy to help them as partners in their care.”
What Is an IUD?
An IUD (“intrauterine device”) is a tiny, plastic device—about the size of a quarter– that we insert into your uterus. There are two categories of IUDs, one that is only copper and another category which releases hormones.
IUDs have a much better track record for preventing pregnancy than other types of birth control. The IUD effectiveness is reflected in the fact that there is less than one pregnancy per 100 women in a year among those who use IUDs.
How Does an IUD Work?
The two different types of IUDs work differently. The one that is covered with copper releases copper ions. These ions prevent the sperm from moving and therefore reaching the egg.
The hormone-releasing IUDs are coated with the hormone levonorgestrel, a type of progestin. This thins your uterine lining while, at the same time, thickening your cervical mucus, making it extremely difficult for sperm to reach your eggs.
None of the IUDs cause abortions.
How Effective Is an IUD?
The IUD is more than 99 percent effective—meaning that over the course of a year, less than 1 out of 100 couples using an IUD will have an unplanned pregnancy.
When Does an IUD Start Working?
This depends upon the type of IUD. The copper IUD works 3-4 hours after it is inserted.
For hormonal IUDs, you need to wait seven days for it to be effective. This may also be affected by when your last period was, so be sure to ask us about it when you have your insertion.
How Long Does an IUD Last?
Again, this depends upon the type of IUD you get. Copper IUDs are effective for 10 years. The hormone/progestin IUDs can work for three to 6 years, depending upon the brand.
Of course, if you change your mind or decide you want to get pregnant, we can remove it at any time. You should not attempt to remove the IUD yourself.
What’s Going On With These Strings?
IUDs have thin strings at the end of them. These strings will be used to remove the IUD when it’s time to insert a new one or when you’ve decided you want to get pregnant. These strings will rest at the top of your vagina to let you know that the IUD is there.
We think it’s a good idea to check it periodically to see that the IUD is still in place. If you’re not sure how to reach them, just let us know. We’ll be glad to explain.
And don’t worry; It would be very difficult to accidentally pull out your IUD. However, we do advise you not to tug on the strings because we don’t want the IUD to shift.
What Do IUD Strings Feel Like?
In many cases, their texture has been compared to light fishing line.
How Long Does It Take for IUD Strings to Soften?
Often, the strings begin to soften within the first week.
What If I Can’t Find the Strings?
Don’t panic. Sometimes they may be harder to feel because they do tend to soften the longer you have the IUD. However, if you can’t seem to find them, schedule an appointment with us so we can determine if your IUD has shifted.
Can an IUD Fall Out?
This is actually very, very rare. On the unusual occasions that it does happen, it’s more likely to occur in those who haven’t had children, those who have an unusually shaped uterus or those who have fibroids.
Can a Guy Feel an IUD?
Neither you nor your partner should be able to feel an IUD because it rests inside your uterus. However, the removal strings of an IUD can be felt if you stick your finger inside your vagina. It’s possible that your partner may feel these when you’re having sex.
If it becomes a problem or puts a damper on your sex life, just remember that these strings will eventually soften over time. If it still creates issues in the bedroom, please contact us so we can help you.
Is It Painful to Get an IUD?
We’ll be honest—getting an IUD is not fun.
Despite all the “horror stories” you may have seen on the internet, most women say IUD insertion just feels like a really bad menstrual cramp. You’ll likely feel a hard cramp as the IUD is inserted, but the good news is that the discomfort only lasts a short time.
Most women say the discomfort is mild to moderate, so it may help to take an over-the-counter painkiller an hour before the insertion. It is also easier and more comfortable to place an IUD during your period.
The entire process from beginning to end takes less than 15 minutes.
If you have concerns about what it will feel like to have an IUD inserted, then just ask us. We’re here for you and want you to feel free to ask us any questions. We can discuss additional medications or techniques that may be appropriate for you specifically when we have our consultation.
Am I at Risk of Getting Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?
You may have heard something about the risk of developing infections from using IUDs. We want to set the record straight.
First, a little bit of history. There was a type of IUD called a Dalkon Shield that was used way back in the 1970s and 80s. Women who used this did show an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, which can affect fertility. Obviously, this type of IUD was taken off the market.
That was then. This is now.
IUDs have come a very long way since then. In fact, an IUD is one of the safest forms of contraception out there, and IUD effectiveness is better than many other forms of birth control, which is why it is growing in popularity.
Will an IUD Affect My Fertility?
No. That’s one of the great things about using an IUD. If you decide you want to get pregnant, all you have to do is schedule an appointment for the IUD to be removed. Afterward, if you don’t have any other issues that could affect your fertility you should be able to get pregnant.
Can You Use a Tampon With an IUD?
Yes. However, you’ll need to wait about 24 hours after getting your IUD to use a tampon. But it won’t change the IUD at all, and it won’t limit the IUD’s effectiveness. Don’t worry about dislodging the strings, either.
What Are the Negative Side Effects of an IUD?
Are There Copper IUD Side Effects?
Many women may wonder if the copper IUD has any side effects. Periods do tend to be 1-2 days longer and a little heavier when using a copper IUD. You may experience some cramps or light bleeding between periods.
However, if for some reason, you experience severe menstrual pain and heavy bleeding, please schedule an appointment with us so we can accurately determine if these are side effects due to the copper IUD or if there is another cause.
Are There Hormonal IUD Side Effects?
In certain cases, you may experience:
- Tender breasts
- Irregular bleeding (however, this generally improves within six months of use)
Does a Copper IUD Cause Weight Gain?
No, There is no evidence of weight gain associated with a copper IUD.
What Can You Not Do After Getting an IUD?
For at least 24 hours after the IUD insertion, you should avoid vaginal intercourse, swimming, tampon use, baths and menstrual cup use. Remember, if you’ve opted for the hormonal IUD, you’ll need back-up contraception to prevent getting pregnant in the first seven days after the IUD is placed.
How To Determine If an IUD Is Right for You
Of course, each individual is different, and while an IUD may not be the best choice for everybody, the IUD effectiveness is the main reason it’s becoming one of the most popular forms of birth control.
IUDs are ideal for those who don’t want to take a pill every day or those who don’t want an implant. It’s also much more effective than condoms, birth control pills, natural planning and even diaphragms.
We would like to remind you that, while IUDs are a great, effective choice for birth control, they do not prevent sexually transmitted infections. You’ll still need to use a condom to avoid those.
How Much Does an IUD Cost?
Typically, insurance will cover the cost for an IUD, although you should speak with your insurance company to get all the details to ensure what brands of IUDs are covered.
We Offer IUD Insertion and Removal in Chapel Hill and Durham
Interested in an IUD as a form of convenient birth control? We’ve got the answers you need, and we’re happy to provide additional information that can help you make a decision. We’ll also remove your IUD if you decide you want to have children or if the IUD is expired and you want another one.
Want to know more? Contact us to schedule an appointment.
For more than 40 years, Chapel Hill OBGYN has served patients in the Triangle area, sharing the joy of little miracles and supporting them during challenges. Our board-certified physicians and certified nurse midwives bring together the personal experience and convenience of a private practice with the state-of-the-art resources found at larger organizations. To schedule an appointment, please contact us for more information.