A copper IUD is a device that is inserted into a woman’s uterus as a long-term form of non-hormonal birth control. Once inserted, the copper IUD, or intrauterine device, can remain in place for up to a decade. Most studies show the copper IUD to be more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.
IUDs are used more than any other type of contraceptive. There are more than 10 types of copper IUDs available to women. They come in T-shapes and U-shapes, and one company is now manufacturing a type that is flexible in shape.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has approved only one type of copper IUD, ParaGard. The Paragard IUD is a plastic T-shaped device that is 1.25 inches (3.17 cm) at the top of the T and 1.38 inches (3.49 cm) long. It is wrapped in copper.
The GyneFix is a type of IUD primarily available to women in China and Europe. It is a plastic string of copper beads. The GyneFix 330 and the GyneFix 200 are the only shapeless IUDs available.
IUDs must be inserted and removed by a physician or trained medical professional, such as a nurse practitioner. The woman will likely be given a local anesthesia before the procedure takes place. The device is inserted through the cervix and into the uterus.
Exactly how a copper IUD prevents pregnancy isn’t known for certain. The most common explanation is that the IUD prevents the movement of sperm to fertilize an egg. The IUD may also interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg, and the copper may act as a spermicide.
The most common side effects reported are increased cramping and bleeding during the first menstrual cycles following insertion. Some women also report lower back pain for the first few weeks following insertion. The most common reason women become pregnant when using an IUD is because their bodies expel the IUD and they are unaware that it is no longer in place. Younger women and women who have never had children are more likely to expel the IUD. If the body is going to expel the device, it will most likely happen within the first year of its use.
As the copper IUD does not contain steroids, as many other types of contraceptives do, this type of birth control is not thought to affect fertility. It is thought a woman can become pregnant as soon as the month following the IUD’s removal. If a woman becomes pregnant while an IUD is in place, she should have the IUD removed immediately. There are increased risks of miscarriage, infection, and birth defects if an IUD is in place during pregnancy.