Intrauterine device (IUD) – everything you need to know

As a non-hormonal form of contraception, the intrauterine device (IUD) could quite honestly be the answer to every girl’s prayers. The thought of being put on a contraception that doesn’t affect your skin, weight or moods is like music to all of our ears. If you’re fed up with chasing your tail when it comes to contraception – and want a method that doesn’t completely upset your hormones – then we might have the perfect little beauty for you.

What is the IUD?

The Intrauterine device (IUD), also known as the copper coil is a small T-shaped plastic and copper device that’s placed into your womb (uterus). Most copper coils are made of a T-shaped frame of polyethylene (plastic) and barium sulphate. Copper wire is wound around the vertical arm and is a non-hormonal form of contraception. Getting pregnant with the copper IUD is unlikely as it is 99% effective.

How does the IUD work?

The coil releases copper into your womb which prevents pregnancy by making the fluid in your cervix thicker (which makes it more difficult for sperm to enter the womb), and preventing the lining of your womb thickening enough for an embryo to grow in it. It can protect from pregnancy from between 5-10 years, which takes away the stress of having to keep track of what pills you’ve taken or what injections you’ve had.

How do I get started?

To get a coil fitted you will need to go to a GP surgery or sexual health clinic where certain staff are trained to fit them. You can contact your GP and ask if they fit coils, or search for clinics that fit coils here. Like when going onto many other contraceptives, your doctor or nurse will do some tests to make sure that you can have the coil – like making sure that you’re not pregnant and checking for infections or STIs.

The coil can be fitted at any time during your monthly period cycle, as long as you’re not pregnant (although you may prefer to get it fitted when you’re not on your period).

Your doctor or nurse will use a speculum (like when you have a smear test) to open up your vagina and then insert the coil through the cervix into the womb. Most women find this uncomfortable. There is an option to have a local anaesthetic to help with the pain so make sure to discuss this with your GP before the procedure.

If it’s fitted in the first seven days of your cycle, you’ll be protected against pregnancy straight away. If it’s fitted at any other time, you’ll need to use condoms or other contraception, for seven days afterwards.

Once the IUD has been fitted, it’ll need to be checked by a GP after 3 to 6 weeks to make sure everything is ticking along smoothly. Be sure to alert your GP if you have any problems after this initial check, or if you want to have the IUD removed. Make sure to also see a GP if you or your partner is at risk of getting an STI, as this can lead to an infection in the pelvis.

You may have an infection if you:

  • Have pain in your lower abdomen
  • Have a high temperature
  • Have an odour to your discharge

Side effects of the copper IUD are that it can make females periods heavier, longer and more painful in the first 3-6 months after it is fitted and you may also get spotting or bleeding in-between periods. 71% of Lowdown users claimed it made their periods heavier. Some people claim the copper coil causes weight gain, however 74% of our users state that their weight had not changed.

How to tell if your IUD is still in place

The IUD has 2 thin threads which hang down slightly from your womb which you should be able to feel at the top of your vagina. Whoever fits your IUD will teach you how to feel for these threads. It’s recommended to check that the IUD is in place a few times in the first month, then after each period.

It’s extremely unlikely that your IUD will come out, but if you are unable to feel the threads or think it may have moved, you will probably not be protected from pregnancy. If this happens see a GP or nurse immediately and use additional contraception, e.g. condoms, until your IUD has been checked. Your partner should not be able to feel your IUD during sex. If they state that they can, see your GP or nurse for a check-up.

What about the IUD removal?

Your coil can be removed at any time by a trained doctor or nurse. It’s simpler than having it fitted – they will gently pull on the threads and the T shape folds up and it can be pulled out of the womb.

If you’re not having another coil put in and don’t want to get pregnant, you’ll need to make sure you don’t have sex seven days before you have it removed, or use condoms or another method.

Check out our survey results to see how long it took most women’s cycles to return to their definition of ‘normal’ and read up about other after-effects they’ve experienced.

IUD vs IUS

The IUD (copper coil) and the IUS (hormonal coil) are very similar, however the one significant difference being HOW they prevent pregnancy. The IUD works by realising copper into the body to prevent pregnancy, whereas the IUS releases a hormone called progestogen into the body. The IUD is often favoured amongst women as it is completely hormone-free.

Pros of the IUD

  • Protects from pregnancy for 5 to 10 years
  • Once fitted, it is effective straight away
  • Most females are able to use it
  • There are no hormonal side effects
  • It does not interrupt sex
  • Safe to use whilst breast feeding
  • Not affected by other medicines

Cons of the IUD

  • Small risk of infection after it’s been fitted. This may occur when harmless bacteria normally found in vagina are pushed inside the womb. You’ll know it’s infected if you have unusual discharge, there’s a strong smell, or you develop a high temperature or chills.
  • Around 1 in 20 coils can fall out or be pushed out by the womb; this is most common in the first few weeks of getting it fitted, or during a period. If this happens, head to your doctor or nurse to get a check-up.
  • If the coil doesn’t work and you get pregnant, there’s also a small increased risk of ectopic pregnancy – when the egg implants outside the womb, normally the fallopian tubes. However, the overall risk of ectopic pregnancy is less in women using a coil than in women using no contraception at all.
  • Very occasionally the threads get lost. This happens to about 1 in 100 women, and is more commonly caused by the threads being pulled up inside into the cervix. They may notice this when you go to have the coil removed, and sometimes the threads can reappear naturally.
  • Even more occasionally (1 in 1000 chance) the coil goes through the wall of the womb into the abdomen. This is called ‘perforation’ and it this happens; they can remove the coil via surgery.

Who should use the IUD?

  • Females that want a contraception that is long lasting
  • Females that are breast feeding
  • Females that want a non-hormonal form of contraception
  • Females that are on other medication

Who shouldn’t use the IUD?

  • Females that think they might be pregnant
  • Females that have an untreated STI or pelvic infection
  • Females that have problems with their womb or cervix
  • Women that have unexplained bleeding between periods or after sex

Where can I get the IUD?

In the UK, you are able to get the IUD for free, even if you’re under 16. You can get it from most contraception clinics, GPs surgeries and some young people’s services. Click here to find your nearest contraception clinic.

To read real-life experiences, check out our copper coil IUD reviews left by hundreds of people around the globe.

This guide was brought to you by The Lowdown, the world’s first contraceptive review platform. Our mission is to change the way that women choose, access and use their contraception. Why not leave us a review and help other women find the right method for them!

This guide was brought to you by The Lowdown. We are the world’s first contraception review platform, providing real-life experiences from thousands of reviews collected from our community of men and women.

Why not leave us a review of your contraceptive experience? Whether you’ve got good things to say about the Mirena coil or had trouble with implant removal, we want to hear about it! Tell us about your experience and help people around the world find the right method for them.