Prevention & Recovery

5 reasons why IUDs are making a comeback

© Wackerhausen Author: Canadian Living Credits: © Wackerhausen

Prevention & Recovery

5 reasons why IUDs are making a comeback

Have you thought about using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control? For decades, North American women (and their doctors) associated these contraceptives with health risks. Now IUDs are beating that bad reputation and enjoying something of a renaissance among Canadian women.

What’s an IUD?
IUDs are small T-shaped devices that are inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. The two types available on the market are the copper IUD, a nonhormonal device that turns your uterus into a place sperm just don’t want to be, and the Mirena, which prevents pregnancy by releasing small amounts of the hormone progestin. Their use among Canadian women who use birth control rose from 1.5 per cent in 2003 to 2.3 per cent in 2009 (most recent data available). While that may not seem like a huge jump, health-care practitioners are fielding many more requests for IUDs.

"We are certainly seeing an increase in demand [for IUDs], especially over the last few years," says Nicole Pasquino, a registered nurse and the director of clinical services at British Columbia’s Options For Sexual Health (OPT) clinic. There have been so many requests that the OPT clinic in Vancouver has started offering IUD-only services once a week, and Pasquino says there’s always a waiting list.

5 reasons why IUDs are making a comeback
Why are a growing number of women turning to this form of birth control? Here are five reasons why IUDs are making a comeback.

1. More women are learning that IUDs are safe
IUDs got a bad rap in the 1970s because a particular brand called the Dalkon Shield was associated with pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. It was subsequently pulled from the Canadian market.

"The products that were out in the 1970s and the products that are available today are completely different," says Pasquino, adding that research shows current IUDs are safe to use for most women. (All medications carry some risk, so talk to your doctor about whether an IUD is right for you.)

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However, misconceptions about IUDs still linger. A United States study published in an April 2012 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests that 30 per cent of health-care providers surveyed had mistaken beliefs about the safety of IUDs. Pasquino says more women are educating themselves about this form of birth control.

2. They’re more effective than birth control pills
Many women appreciate that IUDs are a set-it-and-forget-it form of birth control: You’re protected from pregnancy immediately after your doctor inserts the device and you don’t have to think about contraception again for up to five years. Plus, both types of IUDs are more than 99 per cent effective as long as they are in place.

"There’s no forgetting to take it on time, so it eliminates patient error," Pasquino explains. Some women also like that Mirena can reduce or even stop menstruation.

3. IUDs are reversible
There is a common misconception that IUDs aren’t suitable for women who have not previously been pregnant, but the World Health Organization states that they’re an appropriate form of birth control for moms and non-moms alike. In fact, IUDs may be especially attractive during childbearing years because they’re a low-maintenance contraceptive choice that gives women more control over spacing the births of their children.

"As with oral contraception, you can be fertile within a month or two after removing an IUD," says Pasquino.

4. They’re cost effective
IUDs may seem like a significant investment upfront – Vancouver’s OPT clinic charges $100 for the copper IUD and about $400 for Mirena – but they can give you value over time.

"If you compare five years of birth control with the IUD versus oral contraceptives, you’ll find that IUDs are much cheaper," Pasquino explains.

At the prices that OPT offers, the copper IUD provides birth control for about $2 per month and the Mirena works out to be about $6 per month. "When you consider buying a $30 pack of oral contraceptives each month, [IUDs cost] much less," says Pasquino.

5. They may provide health benefits beyond contraception
Reports that IUDs may protect against certain types of cancer could be fuelling their surge in popularity. Recent research suggests that women who use IUDs for just one year have a 50 per cent lower risk for cervical cancer than those who do not. The study, published in the journal Lancet Oncology, reviewed research from 26 other studies involving more than 20,000 women. Other studies suggest that IUDs may decrease the risk for endometrial cancer and may even be used to treat the disease.

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Prevention & Recovery

5 reasons why IUDs are making a comeback