The IUD is a long-term method of contraception, and is a small plastic and copper device which is placed in the womb to prevent pregnancy.

Once fitted, an IUD can be left in place for three to ten years, depending on the type.

How does it work?

The IUD prevents pregnancy by stopping sperm from reaching an egg and fertilising it and by preventing any fertilised eggs from implanting in the womb and developing into a foetus. It does this by creating a hostile environment in the womb.

How effective is it?

The IUD is over 99 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy.

What are the advantages?

It can be fitted at any time, you don’t have to remember to take anything and it does not interrupt sex. Many women like it because it also does not have any effect on fertility or your hormonal systems.

The IUD can also be used as emergency contraception within five days of having unprotected sex.

What are the downsides?

It needs to be fitted by a specially trained doctor or nurse, and having it fitted may be uncomfortable or even a little painful. Also, if you have picked up a sexually transmitted infection from unprotected sex and have an IUD fitted you could get a pelvic infection.

The IUD can cause longer and heavier periods, and some women also find their periods become more painful.

There is a small chance that you could develop an infection after having the IUD fitted, or, very rarely, that having the IUD fitted may perforate your womb. This is not likely if the doctor or nurse fitting your IUD has lots of experience.

Things to bear in mind

It does not provide any protection against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, like a condom does and, if using it for emergency contraception, getting an IUD fitted is unlikely to be as straightforward as getting the emergency contraceptive pill.

Where can I get it from and how much does it cost?

The IUD is available free on the NHS. You can only get it on prescription. This can be from your GP, another GP who you have registered with for family planning services, a practice nurse or a family planning or young person’s clinic.

Page content supplied by Copyright 2012 © Terrence Higgins Trust.

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