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The pros and cons of IUDs for birth control

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IUD in a hand

When it comes to contraception, there’s no such thing as “perfect.” But for many women, IUDs are an excellent option because of their high degree of effectiveness and reversibility.
“IUDs are 99.8 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, which is the same percentage as if you were to seek sterilization,” says Kathleen Augustine, a certified nurse midwife at Tidelands Health Women’s Center.
An IUD is a T-shaped, flexible contraceptive device that is inserted into the uterus. There are two different types of IUDs:
Copper-based IUDs protect against pregnancy by keeping sperm from reaching the egg and by preventing egg implantation.
Hormonal IUDs release progestin, a synthetic version of progesterone. They prevent pregnancy by thickening cervical mucous, which prevents the sperm from reaching the egg, and by thinning the lining of the uterus. Hormonal IUDs can also stop the ovaries from releasing an egg altogether.

Extended effectiveness

IUDs can be effective for up to 12 years and are best suited for someone who doesn’t plan to get pregnant for at least a year, Augustine says.
An IUD can be a good solution for someone who has trouble remembering to take a birth control pill every day. They are safe for women who are breastfeeding and may provide relief to women who have heavy menstrual periods.
Minor cramping may be associated with inserting an IUD, but that can usually treated effectively with over-the-counter pain medications, Augustine says. A progestin-based IUD thins the uterine lining, which may cause some women to experience spotting or irregular bleeding, but that usually resolves within three to six months.

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A yearly gynecological check-up is all that’s needed to maintain an IUD. It can be removed with a visit to your care provider, and fertility returns soon after.
“IUDs can be removed easily should you choose to have a baby,” Augustine says.
While IUDs have many positive aspects, it’s important to remember they do not offer protection against sexually transmitted diseases, Augustine says, and some women may experience side effects.
Women who are interested in an IUD or other form of birth control should discuss options with their gynecological care provider, she says, to help determine the best choice.
“We’re here to help,” Augustine says. “Everyone’s situation is different, and it’s important to pick an option that fits your specific needs.”

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