Copper IUDs (intrauterine devices) are a form of birth control. IUDs are a safe and effective method of preventing unintended pregnancies.

As of 2012, 11.6% of females in the United States use some form of IUD or implant, according to an article in Open Access Journal of Contraception.

This article discusses what copper IUDs are, how they work, their side effects, and how to get one.

A doctor holds a copper IUD.Share on Pinterest
Copper acts as a spermicide in a copper IUD, which is a nonhormonal form of birth control.

According to the journal, Open Access Journal of Contraception, currently, the only copper IUD available in America is the CuT-380A IUD, or ParaGuard.

This IUD is around 36 millimeters (mm)-long with two white strings around 10.5 centimeters (cm) long that help healthcare professionals insert and remove the device.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend removing the copper IUD after 10 years.

The copper IUD is a contraceptive. This means that it prevents sperm from fertilizing any eggs.

Copper acts as a spermicide. It changes the way that sperm move so they are not able to swim to an egg and prevents the sperm’s head from breaking through an unfertilized egg.

Planned Parenthood warn that while the copper IUD prevents unintended pregnancies, it does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

To help prevent STIs, a person should use barrier methods of birth control, such as male or female condoms during oral or penetrative sex or dental dams for oral sex.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the typical failure rate of a copper IUD is 0.8%.

The Open Access Journal of Contraception indicates that failure rate can increase slightly the longer a person is using it. For example, after 4 years, the failure rate increases to 1.3%, and by year 10, it has a failure rate of 2.1%.

This means that copper IUDs are more effective than other forms of birth control. According to the CDC, condoms have a failure rate of 13%, and birth control pills can fail 7% of the time.

According to Planned Parenthood, the copper IUD is also a very effective method of emergency birth control. If a healthcare professional inserts the copper IUD within 5 days of having sex without birth control, it is more than 99.9% effective at preventing unintended pregnancy.

However, if the IUD becomes dislodged or falls out, it no longer prevents pregnancy. It is important to check for the strings attached to the device regularly.

If a person is unable to feel the strings, it is essential to use other methods of birth control and make an appointment with a healthcare professional.

A copper IUD offers the following benefits to having:

  • it is effective
  • it is long lasting
  • a person does not have to worry about using it incorrectly
  • removal does not affect a person’s fertility

A copper IUD is a nonhormonal form of birth control.

The copper IUD does not release any hormones in the body. This means that people who cannot have hormonal contraceptives due to preferences or medical reasons may find the copper IUD better than contraceptives.

According to the CDC, once a healthcare professional has inserted the IUD, it then protects from unintended pregnancies for up to 10 years.

Another benefit of the copper IUD is that it can act as an emergency contraceptive.

The most common side effect of the copper IUD is irregular and heavy bleeding.

The 2016 article in Open Access Journal of Contraception indicates that during the first year after insertion, 4–15% of women remove the IUD for this reason. Periods may get heavier while using the copper IUD. Blood loss can increase from 30–50%.

Another side effect is an increased risk of period pain. According to an older 2007 study, 38% of participants reported significantly more period pain after the insertion of a copper IUD.

Women who have had children tend to experience fewer adverse side effects than women who have never given birth.

According to Planned Parenthood, other side effects include:

  • pain during the insertion of the copper IUD
  • cramping and backache for a few days after insertion

These side effects typically go away within 3–6 months for most people. However, anyone who experiences symptoms that do not go away or interfere with daily life should consider seeing a healthcare professional.

There are some health risks with the copper IUD. However, according to Planned Parenthood, serious risks are infrequent.

Some risks include:

  • the IUD slipping partly or entirely out of the uterus
  • an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy if using an IUD while pregnant
  • infection after insertion of the IUD, which may cause infertility if left untreated
  • the IUD may puncture the uterus, leading to surgery

A person should see a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:

A person must call a nurse or doctor as soon as possible right away if they:

  • cannot feel the IUD strings, or they feel longer or shorter than before
  • can feel the plastic of the IUD coming through the cervix
  • experience soreness or bad cramping pain the lower belly
  • experience pain or bleeding during intercourse occurs
  • have unexplained fever, chills or difficulty breathing
  • have heavier vaginal bleeding than usual
  • notice the vaginal discharge is different

Healthcare professionals may say a copper IUD is not safe if a person:

  • has certain STIs, such as chlamydia or has a pelvic infection
  • thinks they may be pregnant
  • has cervical or uterine cancer
  • has had a pelvic infection after childbirth, or an abortion within the past 3 months
  • has a copper allergy
  • has a bleeding disease that makes it harder for the body to clot blood
  • has had breast cancer

Before a healthcare professional inserts the IUD, they will ask for a medical and sexual history, check the vagina, uterus, and cervix, and may test for STIs.

A healthcare professional may offer medicine to open or numb the cervix.

A healthcare professional may offer medicine to open or numb the cervix.
The healthcare professional will then use a speculum to open the vagina and use a special instrument to insert the IUD through the cervix’s opening and into the uterus.

Typically, this process only takes about 5 minutes.

Some people experience pain, a backache, mild cramping, and heavier periods after the insertion of an IUD. Typically, these side effects last just a short time. However, all symptoms tend to go away in 3–6 months.

Sometimes, an IUD might slip out during the first 3 months. When this occurs, it is likely to be during menstruation. It is important to check any sanitary products for the IUD.

Once the IUD is out, a person has no protection from pregnancy.

It is essential not to tug the strings of the IUD. This can lead to the IUD being dislodged or move it out of place, which might affect its ability to prevent pregnancy.

According to Planned Parenthood, removing an IUD is usually simple. A healthcare professional will simply grasp the strings, and with gentle traction, the device will slip out. Cramping may occur.

However, in some cases, the healthcare professional may have difficulty removing the IUD. This might occur if the IUD has embedded itself into the uterus. When this happens, a healthcare professional may have to use special instruments to remove it or schedule surgery.

It is possible to get pregnant straight away after healthcare professionals remove the copper IUD.

A copper IUD can cost anything from $0 to $1,300, depending on what insurance or government programs cover.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, birth control under health insurance tends to be free because of the Affordable Care Act. However, because there are many different kinds of IUDs, a healthcare plan may not cover copper IUDs.

If a person does not have healthcare insurance, Medicaid or other state programs may be available to give financial help.

A doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional are the only people qualified to insert a copper IUD.

A gynecologist, any family planning clinics, or Planned Parenthood will be able to do the procedure.

The copper IUD is one of the most effective forms of birth control. It is nonhormonal, so people who are unable to take hormonal birth control can use this device. It is also long lasting. It can stay in the body for up to 10 years.

It works by acting as a spermicide, stopping the sperm from moving and penetrating unfertilized eggs.

While it protects from pregnancy, it does not protect from STIs.

The most common side effects are heavy and irregular bleeding. For many people, these side effects stop within 6 months. However, it is crucial to see a healthcare professional if the side effects interfere in daily activity, or if they do not go away.

The insertion and removal of the device are simple procedures. While there may be some pain or cramping, pain relief medication will help.