Confused About IUDs? So Are Doctors

For American women, oral contraceptives are the predominate form of birth control. Others tend to choose tubal litigation, condoms, and vasectomies. Ranked number 5 on the list is the intrauterine device (IUD). The IUDs ranking on the list of preferred birth control methods could be because many women are not sure exactly what an IUD does…or how safe it is. Turns out, women aren’t the only ones who are confused.

A recent study shows that many doctors are misinformed about which women can receive an IUD.

Researched in the study surveyed health care providers at family planning clinics in Colorado and Iowa, finding that “only about half of the providers said they considered Paraguard and Mirena, [types of IUDs], safe and reliable for preventing pregnancy in women who had just had babies.” Thirty percent of those surveyed added that IUDs were also not safe for women who has recently had abortions.

These views, however, conflict with new recommendations from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which stated that almost all women – including those who had given birth or had an abortion – could safely receive IUDs.

But first off, what exactly is an IUD? When inserted into the uterus, an IUD prevents pregnancy by preventing fertilization. Kelly Cleland, a researcher who worked on the recent study, explains, “Copper ions released by the IUD are believed to be toxic to sperm, impairing their motility and viability.” IUDs also cause inflammation in the uterus, “which leads to the release of fluids that impair the function of both eggs and sperm.” Convenient in that they prevent pregnancies for up to 10 years, IUDs are a perfect fit for some women. They are, however, more expensive.

“In the U.S., the IUD has a bad reputation,” Cleland said. One device called the Dalkon Shield, which was sold in the 1970s, was poorly designed and caused a great deal of illness and infection, the researcher reported. Cleland asserts that much of doctor’s and women’s reluctance to use IUDs likely stems from the poor reputation of earlier IUDs. Along with misconceptions, insurance does not always cover IUDs.

IUDs are also an effective means of post-sex birth control, like the morning after pill. If inserted within five days of unprotected sex, it can prevent pregnancy.

While IUDs may be recommended less by some doctors, and while American women still rarely use them as birth control, there is one group of women in which IUD use is much more common: gynecologists. According to a poll released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), use of IUDs by female ob-gyns is three times greater than that of the general public.

As HealthLink questions, “If the women who are, presumably, the most knowledgeable about reproductive health are choosing IUDs more often than the rest of us, then what is it our gynecologists know that most women don’t?”

What have you heard about the IUD?