The IUD is a long-term method of contraception. It is a small plastic and copper T-shaped device which is placed in the womb to prevent pregnancy. IUDs can be used by women of all ages, including those under 16. They do not need to have had a baby first.
Once fitted, an IUD can be left in place for five to ten years, depending on the type.
How does it work?
The IUD prevents pregnancy by releasing copper ions - chemicals in the copper which are not harmful to humans but which kill sperm.
As the IUD is T-shaped, the arms physically prevent any fertilised eggs from implanting in the womb and developing into a foetus. All of this means that the IUD makes the womb a very hostile environment for sperm.
How effective is it?
The IUD is over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.
Advantages of the IUD:
- it can be fitted at any time, if it is certain that you are not already pregnant
- it is available at a range of sites, these include CASH, GUM and other sexual health clinics, GPs and abortion services
- you don’t have to remember to take anything and it does not interrupt sex
- it has no effect on fertility or your hormonal balance.
The IUD may also be used as emergency contraception if put in within five days of having unprotected sex, but only if there is no risk of you being pregnant already. So its important to see somebody as soon as possible if you have any unprotected sex.
Disadvantages of the IUD:
You usually need two appointments to have an IUD fitted - one for your initial chat and check up, and one for your actual fitting of the IUD.
The fitting can be uncomfortable/painful, however local anaesthetic is usually used. The IUD needs to be fitted by a specially trained doctor or nurse.
If you have a sexually transmitted infection from unprotected sex and have an IUD fitted you could get a pelvic infection.
The IUD may cause slightly longer and heavier periods, and some women also find their periods become a little more painful, however many women notice very little difference at all.
There's a small chance that you could develop an infection after having the IUD fitted. Very rarely, having the IUD fitted may perforate (make a small hole in) your womb. This is unlikely if the doctor or nurse fitting your IUD has lots of experience.
Things to bear in mind:
It does not provide any protection against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, like a condom does. If using it for emergency contraception, getting an IUD fitted is unlikely to be as straightforward as getting the emergency contraceptive pill.
Where can I get it from and how much does it cost?
The IUD is available free on the NHS. You can only get it on prescription and cannot buy it at a pharmacy. The IUD can be obtained from your GP, a sexual health clinic, a practice nurse or a young person's clinic.