The intrauterine device is a small T-shaped plastic and copper device that is inserted in the womb in order to protect against pregnancy. The IUD is known by many names, such as the coil or loop, because it took this form when it was first developed in the 1960s. More recently it has become known as the cooper T, due to its current shape.

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How does the IUD work?

Instead of releasing hormones into the body, the IUD device releases copper into the body, making the mucus in the cervix thicken so it's harder for sperm to reach the womb. Should sperm somehow manage to fertilise the egg, it is unable to implant itself into the womb. Thus it effectively prevents the womb lining from thickening.

The intrauterine device can only be inserted by a medical expert, a process that usually takes 15-20 minutes. It is generally inserted during your period. Some women describe the fitting as painful while others will compare it to a mild discomfort. Although some doctors choose to use a local anaesthetic, this is becoming increasingly rare. Taking a painkiller before the insertion should reduce any pain that may occur during the procedure.

Your partner should not be able to able to feel the IUD during sex. Should they be able to feel the threads, you should check with your doctor or nurse to make sure the device has been fitted properly.

What are the benefits?

There are many benefits to having an IUD fitted, which is why many women choose this contraceptive method over others.

  • It is more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.
  • Compared to other contraceptive methods, it offers long-term protection cover (five-ten years), without you having to do anything.
  • You have the option to have it removed should any side effects occur.
  • Fertility levels also return to normal very quickly after the IUD is removed.
  • Unlike other contraceptives, it is not affected by any other medicine you are taking.
  • Once inserted, it is effective immediately.

Although it has a number of benefits, it is worth noting that the IUD does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

Are there any side affects?

Like most contraceptives, the IUD contains a risk of side effects. Some women report that their periods are heavier, longer and more painful after the device is fitted. There may also be a small possibility of the device becoming infected within the first 20 days after it has been fitted. There is also a slight risk that the IUD may move around in the uterus or be pushed out by the uterus, although this is very rare.

Is the IUD suitable for all women?

This device is not an appropriate option for all women. You will likely be advised against having an IUD fitted if you are allergic to copper, have a pelvic infection, have had problems with your womb or cervix, have experienced unexplained vaginal bleeding, have had an ectopic pregnancy or have had heart problems.