Content Map Terms

Intrauterine Device (IUD) for Birth Control

British Columbia Specific Information

Birth control can help prevent pregnancy. There are many types of birth control available. Speak with your health care provider to help decide which type is right for you and your partner.

Hormone-based birth control contains hormones such as estrogen and progestin. Certain medications may make your hormone-based birth control not work properly or not at all. For more information, see HealthLinkBC File #91a Hormonal Contraception and using other medications at the same time.

Emergency contraception helps to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex, or failed birth control. For more information about emergency contraception, see HealthLinkBC File #91b Emergency Contraception (EC).

Birth control cannot prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but using a condom will reduce your risk. For more information about birth control and sexual health, visit Options for Sexual Health and Smart Sex Resource. To learn more about STIs, see our HealthLinkBC Files - Sexually Transmitted Infections Series.

You may also call 8-1-1 to speak with a registered nurse or pharmacist. Our nurses are available anytime of the day, every day of the year. Our pharmacists are available every night from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m.

Topic Contents

Overview

The intrauterine device (IUD) is used to prevent pregnancy. It's a small, plastic, T-shaped device. Your doctor places the IUD in your uterus. If you and your doctor discuss it before you give birth, this can be done right after you have your baby.

You are using either a hormonal IUD or a copper IUD.

  • Hormonal IUDs prevent pregnancy for 3 to 5 years, depending on which IUD is used. But your doctor may talk to you about leaving it in for longer. Once you have it, you don't have to do anything else to prevent pregnancy.
  • The copper IUD prevents pregnancy for 3 to 10 years. But your doctor may talk to you about leaving it in for longer. Once you have it, you don't have to do anything to prevent pregnancy.

The IUD usually stays in the uterus until your doctor removes it.

How well does it work?

The IUD is a highly effective method of birth control.

  • When using the hormonal or copper IUD, fewer than 1 woman out of 100 becomes pregnant in the first year.footnote 1
  • Most pregnancies that occur with IUD use happen because the IUD is pushed out of (expelled from) the uterus unnoticed. IUDs are most likely to come out in the first few months of IUD use, after being inserted just after childbirth, or in women who have not had a baby.

Advantages of IUDs include cost-effectiveness over time, ease of use, lower risk of ectopic pregnancy, and no interruption of foreplay or intercourse.footnote 2

Other advantages of the hormonal IUD

Also, the hormonal IUD:

  • Reduces heavy menstrual bleeding by an average of 90% after the first few months of use.footnote 2
  • Reduces menstrual bleeding and cramps and, in many women, eventually causes menstrual periods to stop altogether. In this case, not menstruating is not harmful.
  • May prevent endometrial hyperplasia or endometrial cancer.
  • May effectively relieve endometriosis and is less likely to cause side effects than high-dose progestin.footnote 3
  • Reduces the risk of ectopic pregnancy.
  • Does not cause weight gain.

What are the risks?

Risks of using an intrauterine device (IUD) include:

  • Menstrual problems. The copper IUD may increase menstrual bleeding or cramps. You may also have spotting between periods. The hormonal IUD may reduce menstrual cramps and bleeding.footnote 4
  • Perforation. In 1 out of 1,000 women, the IUD will get stuck in or puncture (perforate) the uterus.footnote 4 Perforation is rare, but when it occurs, it's almost always during insertion. The IUD should be removed if the uterus has been perforated.
  • Expulsion. About 2 to 10 out of 100 IUDs are pushed out (expelled) from the uterus into the vagina during the first year. This usually happens in the first few months of use. Expulsion is more likely when the IUD is inserted right after childbirth or in a woman who has not carried a pregnancy.footnote 4 When an IUD has been expelled, you are no longer protected against pregnancy. If you think your IUD has been expelled, use a backup birth control method until you can see a health care provider.

References

Citations

  1. Trussell J, Guthrie KA (2011). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 20th ed., pp. 45–74. Atlanta: Ardent Media.
  2. Grimes DA (2007). Intrauterine devices (IUDs). In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 19th ed., pp. 117–143. New York: Ardent Media.
  3. Fritz MA, Speroff L (2011). Endometriosis. In Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility, 8th ed., pp. 1221–1248. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  4. Grimes DA (2007). Intrauterine devices (IUDs). In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 19th ed., pp. 117–143. New York: Ardent Media.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 5/10/2022

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC