About the IUD
The intrauterine device (IUD) is also known as a (non-hormonal) copper coil. It is a small plastic and copper device that is inserted into your womb by a specially trained doctor or nurse. It looks like a letter T with two threads at the end.
There are different sizes and they can stay in for five to ten years, depending on the type. However, if you only need contraception for four years, you can have it removed sooner. Newer types of IUD are estimated to be over 99% effective.
How it works
The IUD, once inserted, releases copper. This changes the fluids in the womb and fallopian tubes to stop sperm surviving there. It may also stop fertilised eggs from implanting in the womb too.
How to use it
A doctor or nurse will fit your IUD. This usually takes 10 to 20 minutes. The IUD will be inserted into your vagina and then into your womb.
If you feel unwell, have pain in your lower stomach and have a high temperature or smelly discharge from your vagina, go back to the clinic where it was fitted, as you may have an infection.
Who can use it
Most women can use an IUD. This includes young women and women who have never been pregnant and those who are HIV positive. You may not be able to use an IUD if you have:
- An untreated STI or a pelvic infection
- Rare problems with your womb (that have existed since or before birth)
- A chance that you are already pregnant
- A high risk of catching STIs such as having multiple partners and not using condoms
Your clinician will also check if you have had an ectopic pregnancy, recent abortion, or have an artificial heart valve.
There are many advantages to using an IUD:
- Once fitted, an IUD works straight away
- Highly effective – over 99%
- Very convenient and often referred to as a “fit and forget” method
- It lasts for up to 10 years, or until it’s removed
- Can be used while breastfeeding
- Fertility returns to normal as soon as the IUD is removed
- It is not affected by other medicines
It’s also worth bearing in mind that:
- Periods may become heavier, longer or more painful. This is common in the first three to six months and will likely settle down
- Doesn’t protect against STIs. You may have to use condoms as well
- The procedure can cause some discomfort but this can be helped with painkillers
- If you get an STI with an IUD, it could lead to a pelvic infection if not treated but does not increase your risk of getting pelvic infections
- In the very rare event of a pregnancy, there is an increased risk of an ectopic pregnancy.
There is also a small increased risk of:
- Infection after IUD is first fitted (but only if there is an infection already present at the time of fitting)
- The IUD making a hole in the womb or neck of the womb. The happens in about 1 in 1000 cases – so very rare
- The IUD coming out, which sometimes happens when you go to the toilet or during a heavy period. Your doctor or nurse will teach you how to check it is in place. Again, this is very very rare and is usually obvious and uncomfortable so women know something is wrong
Where to get it
Most types of contraception are free in the UK, and are available to all women and men through the NHS. Places where you can get contraception include:
- Most GP surgeries – talk to your GP or practice nurse
- Sexual health clinics like those run by Virgin Care, which offer both contraceptive and STI services. If you’d like to, you can book an appointment now
- Community contraception clinics
- Some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
- Some young people’s services, like those run by Brook
You can get an IUD fitted in sexual health clinics, community contraception clinics and some GP surgeries. Not all doctors or nurses will fit IUDs so make sure you mention you would like to discuss IUDs when making the appointment.
IUDs are best fitted at the beginning of your cycle when you are on your period. This will rule out pregnancy.