Intrauterine Device

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Paragard IUD

ParaGard T 380A IUD, also known as "Copper T," is an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control that does not contain synthetic sex hormones.

The ParaGard IUD is made of flexible plastic and copper, crafted into the shape of a small "T." It is a little over an inch long, with fine copper wire wrapped around the stem and arms. A thin thread is attached through the bottom of the "T" to help locate and remove the IUD. ParaGard does not contain latex.

The IUD must be placed inside the uterus by a doctor, where it may remain for up to ten years. ParaGard starts working as soon as it is inserted into the uterus. ParaGard is probably the longest-lasting, reversible, hormone-free contraceptive on the market. This device is expensive; Paragard costs about $450 US.

Mechanism for Paragard

According to the manufacturers, how the ParaGard T 380A prevents pregnancy is not completely understood. Several theories have been suggested, as multiple birth control mechanisms may affect the ovum, sperm, and fertilized egg. Clinical studies with copper-bearing IUDs suggest that fertilization is prevented by killing sperm.

However, it is also known that the ParaGard IUD does not prevent ovulation. Some sperm may in fact reach the egg, resulting in fertilization. When fertilization does occur, ParaGard is thought to act as birth control by preventing the embryo from implanting in the uterus.

Effectiveness of Paragard IUD

ParaGard is thought to be very effective, with less than a 1% failure rate for perfect users. However, this number does not include women whose IUD fell out of place. In clinical trials, over 1 in 20 women expelled the ParaGard IUD during the first year. An additional 12% of the women in this study discontinued use because of bleeding and pain. The IUD is less effective for teens than for women over twenty.

After removing the ParaGard IUD, most women are able to become pregnant right away. However, this is not always the case. In one study, 22% of women seeking pregnancy were still unable to become pregnant after a year after discontinuation of the ParaGard IUD.

Paragard IUD and Pregnancy

When a pregnancy happens with the ParaGard IUD in place, the long-term effects on the unborn child are not known. Under such conditions some birth defects have occurred. In the event of pregnancy, the ParaGard IUD should be removed. Removing the IUD may cause a miscarriage. However, successful removal in pregnancy decreases the likelihood of pregnancy complications. In some cases removal of the ParaGard IUD may be difficult and a surgical abortion may be necessary.

Safety Information for Paragard IUD

The ParaGard IUD does not protect against any sexually transmitted disease. Women who have pelvic-inflammatory disease (PID) must not use ParaGard. Women who have more than one sexual partner or who are at risk for an STD are at a higher risk for PID, and should also not use ParaGard. The ParaGard IUD is not suitable for women who have a uterus that is not normally shaped, have had a recent post-pregnancy or post-abortion uterine infection, have cancer of the uterus or cervix, have unexplained bleeding of the vagina, have an infection in the cervix, or have an allergy to copper.

Side Effects & Health Risks of Paragard

When ParaGard is put in place, cramping or pain may be experienced, and some women feel faint or dizzy. The most common side effect of ParaGard is longer and heavier periods, and some women have spotting between periods. Usually, these problems go away after a few months. However, if menstruation is very heavy or does not stop when it should, call your doctor. The IUD contains barium sulfate, so that it is easier to see on an x-ray. Although many forms of baruim are radioactive, the barium sulfate in the IUD is considered safe.

Some serious health risks that are connected to intrauterine device use, including ParaGard, are pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), perforation of the uterus, expulsion of the device (the IUD falls out), and difficult removal (the IUD gets stuck in the uterus and may require surgery to remove). If you miss a period, you should also call your doctor immediately because this means that you might be pregnant. Pregnancy can pose a serious health risk for any women with an IUD in place.

A comprehensive list of possible side effects and health risks of the ParaGard IUD are listed below.

Documented Health Risks for the ParaGard IUD
  • Abdominal infection or adhesions (scar tissue)
  • Allergy to copper
  • Anemia
  • Backache
  • Blood poisoning
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Cervical infection or erosion
  • Cysts on ovaries and tubes
  • Death
  • Delayed menstruation
  • Difficult removal
  • Ectopic/tubal pregnancy
  • Embedment (IUD surrounded by uterine tissue)
  • Expulsion (IUD comes completely or partially out of the uterus)
  • Fainting and pain at the time of insertion or removal
  • Fragmentation (breakage) of the IUD
  • Infertility
  • Spotting between periods
  • Miscarriage
  • Painful intercourse
  • Pelvic infection (PID), which may result in surgical removal of your reproductive organs, including hysterectomy
  • Perforation of the uterus (womb) or cervix (IUD passes through uterine tissue)
  • Pregnancy
  • Prolonged or heavy menstrual flow
  • Infected miscarriage followed, in some cases, by blood poisoning, which can lead to death
  • Vaginal discharge

Source: List taken from ParaGard T 380A manufacturer's patient package insert [download].

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