5 Facts About IUDs No One Tells You Before You Get One, According To 7 Users
The intra-uterine device, or IUD, is a hugely popular method of contraception worldwide. IUDs increased in popularity by 900% in the U.S. following the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, and the BBC reports that in Asia they're used by up to 27% of women to prevent pregnancy. They come in both copper and hormonal types, and are considered extremely effective when it comes to contraception, with a 99.9 % success rate, according to Planned Parenthood. However, the act of actually getting an IUD and the process of adapting to its presence in the body can differ widely from person to person. There's no uniform IUD experience, and information about the process can be mixed or lacking — which means that people can fall through the cracks.
Seven women from the UK and U.S. tell Bustle about what their IUD experience was like, what they wished they'd known before they'd gone through the process, and the aspects they hadn't anticipated beforehand. If you're thinking about getting an IUD, these women's stories show the importance of doing your research and talking to your gynecologist. They also give some ideas about what to expect afterwards, and what might make an IUD the right choice for you. Here are five facts about IUDs these women want others to know before they get one.
1. That It Doesn't Have To Be Purely For Contraception
IUDs aren't just for contraceptive purposes. They're also prescribed for serious period pain; the hormonal IUD Mirena reduces pain and bleeding in the majority of women who have it inserted. Lea, 32, tells Bustle, "There's not enough info that IUDs don't have to be for contraception necessarily. As a gay woman, contraception is not really a concern, but no one had ever told me that IUDs can help with the pain [of periods]. Mind-blowing: after 20 years or so of excruciating pain on a monthly basis, I'm now period-free."
2. That Periods Afterwards Can Be Intense, Or Disappear Altogether
The impact of IUDs on periods depends on the kind you have fitted, how your periods were previously, and other factors. After her IUD insertion, Anna, in her 30s, tells Bustle that her periods are now "about 60% more painful with the occasional one that feels like a daemon rampaging in my uterus."
However, Jennifer, also in her 30s, who had the Mirena inserted in fall 2018, has a different experience. "It's still taking time to settle but far less pain and almost no bleeding," she says.
3. That For Some Peopl,e An IUD Can Take An Entire Year To Feel 'At Home'
Getting an IUD fitted is, for some people, just the beginning of the process — and recovering quickly isn't universal. "I was expecting a walk in the park," Ayla, 33, tells Bustle. "I thought I would be one of those powerhouses back in the gym slinging weights around in no time. In fact, I took a day or two out of work, and had some sleepless nights wondering if I'd made a big mistake."
Ayla's experience post-insertion involved the discovery that her cervix was sitting low and some pain and bleeding. "I got an ultrasound to make sure the IUD was where it was supposed to be, as my doctor agreed this sounded less than ideal. It turned out the IUD was in fact where it should be, and that I was just 'one of the unlucky ones' whose body did not take kindly to the intruder," she tells Bustle.
A low cervix isn't necessarily a concern as it generally shifts position throughout your menstrual cycle. When it comes to IUDs, low cervixes don't actually influence the effectiveness of the device or raise your risk of a perforated cervix, but they can make the IUD seem more precariously placed.
Ayla and her doctor agreed to remove the IUD if her issues hadn't resolved one year after insertion. "By some miracle, the pain and the bleeding and the droopy cervix did go away. Almost right before that appointment, one year after insertion," she says.
4. That People Have Different Experiences When It Comes To Anesthesia & Pain
While some people experience virtually no pain during IUD insertion — Lea tells Bustle that she "didn't even notice" it — others had different experiences with both pain and anesthetic.
"One apparently contentious issue around getting an IUD is whether or not you get anesthetic," Emily, 26, tells Bustle. "The guy fitting mine gave me injections of local into my cervix. After the first one he sort of prodded the cervix and asked if it was uncomfortable. It was. So he gave me another injection." After three injections that made no noticeable difference, she had the insertion. "I was incredibly woozy straight after. I thought at the time it might have been the anesthetic but my doctor friends have since mentioned that stretching the cervix like that has an effect on the vagus nerve," she tells Bustle. Over-stimulation of the vagus nerve, or vasovagal syncope, can cause dizziness and lightheadedness.
Susannah, who has had both Mirena and copper IUDs and is now on hormonal IUD Jaydess, experienced multiple insertions and removals in her 30s, and found them to be painful. "On my last go-round I went to a dedicated sexual health clinic where they offered gas and air during the insertion, and I was so grateful to be offered pain relief at last I burst out crying. I am a medical stoic raised by two sociopath doctors so the pain has to be really next-level for me to cry in front of a medical professional," she tells Bustle. "The one insertion that really stands out is having an IUD inserted in under 10 minutes by a nurse practitioner in an un-air-conditioned London GP surgery in summer and then being shooed out, trembling and sweating, to wilt unattended in the waiting room."
It's clear that responses to IUD insertion and removal are highly personal, and that maintaining a good dialogue with your healthcare professional is crucial to make sure you have the support you need.
5. That Strings Can Be Cut Too Short
Amelia, 33, tells Bustle that she had her IUD inserted in a hospital. "I'd had problems with ovarian cysts that had meant plenty of doctors interfering with my bits and knew I had a tendency to bleed and cramp." However, she had an unusual side effect caused by medical error. "The guy who fitted it was the more senior doctor, but as it happened he cut the strings on mine too short," she says. "That means I have terrible trouble checking it myself and nurses doing Pap smears have trouble even seeing it is there. It wasn't worth taking it out and trying again though." As many as 18% of women with IUDs can't feel the strings of the device, according to Healthline.
Amelia says that regardless, the IUD was definitely the right choice for her. "Short answer: painful but worth it. Also worth planning for it to be painful and make allowances."
For other people, pain and side effects made the IUD less suitable of a birth control method. Everyone Bustle spoke to, however, say they would have benefited from knowing about potential risks, benefits, and errors throughout the process. If you're interested in an IUD, it's worth getting a medical professional with whom you can have honest conversations.