Copper IUD: Paragard Side Effects, Usage, and What to Expect
Paragard® is a copper intrauterine device (IUD) that provides pregnancy protection for up to 10 years after placement. After almost four decades of use, the Paragard® IUD is currently the only non-hormonal IUD That the F.D.A. has approved in the United States.
The copper IUD is a T-shaped device wrapped in copper wire that a doctor must insert into the uterus. Copper IUDs prevent pregnancy by creating an inflammatory reaction in the body that is toxic to sperm and eggs, preventing the sperm from reaching and fertilizing the eggs.
Additionally, because the Paragard® IUD is a hormone-free birth control option, women using the IUD will continue to experience monthly menstruation.
Paragard® is one of the best and most effective contraception methods, offering long-term pregnancy prevention for premenopausal women and teenagers without the need for hormonal birth control. Even Courtney Benedict, the associate director of Medical Standards Implementation at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, notes that this IUD is “the most effective form of emergency contraception because it reduces the risk of pregnancy by 99 percent up to five days after having unprotected sex, and can remain inserted for up to 12 years.”
At 99% effective, Paragard® trumps other birth control methods, including the birth control shot, birth control pills, patch, vaginal ring, and condoms. The disadvantages of maintaining a precise daily dosage or interruption of intercourse for contraceptive measures also disappear following the insertion of the device.
Paragard® requires a single procedure for placement. A doctor can easily remove it, and it is even safe for breastfeeding mothers. On top of its convenience and effectiveness, it acts as emergency contraception if in place within five days of unprotected sex, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While Paragard® intrauterine devices are a popular choice for contraception, your healthcare provider may suggest another birth control method if you:
- Have uterine fibroids or uterine abnormalities that would interfere with the placement of your IUD
- Have cancer of the uterus or cervix
- Are experiencing a pelvic infection or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
- Experience inexplicable vaginal bleeding
- Are allergic to the Paragard® components
- Have Wilson’s disease
- Experience heavy or painful menstruation, as Paragard® may increase period pain and menstrual blood loss
If you are a premenopausal woman not yet ready for a baby, Paragard® may mean the end of your search for effective, long-term birth control. However, while researching the health information about the IUD, it’s important to note that Paragard® does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. You will still need to use a barrier method to protect you from these risks.
Your health care provider may have more contraceptive advice or prescribing information based on your personal medical history to assist you in the search for and selection of birth control methods.
Common Risks and Potential Side Effects
According to most studies on IUDs, Paragard® is safe and prevents pregnancy without the impact of hormonal contraception, which often results in symptoms such as weight gain, blood clots, and mood swings. Despite its efficacy, the IUD is not without common side effects or the potential for more severe and rare complications.
The Paragard® website suggests that users may experience common side effects such as:
- Heavy bleeding or elongated periods
- Increased pain and cramping during menstruation
- Abnormal uterine bleeding or spotting between periods
- Partial or complete expulsion of the IUDs
In most cases, side effects decline or disappear entirely after three months. However, since 2016, several women have filed court cases exposing the potential danger of Paragard®. The claims imply that manufacturer advertising was inaccurate, perpetuating the IUD as safe and effective despite documented device breakage and personal injury.
A Nebraska woman named Stephanie Ideus, one of the original plaintiffs, reported that her Paragard® broke and embedded in her uterus during a standard removal procedure and required surgery to correct.
While the court sided with the device’s manufacturer on Ideus’s case, attorneys continue to take cases from women who have received injuries from Paraguard®. Further, device removal instructions warn physicians of the potential for breakage or embedment, and Cooper Surgical includes “device breakage” in its advertising’s Adverse Events section.
Although these serious side effects are the exception, they are not impossible. Another severe side effect is a pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Alongside PID, placement issues, perforation of the uterus or cervix during insertion, ectopic pregnancy, or sepsis may occur in rare cases. Paragard® threads can draw back into the uterus or break, or your uterus may expel the IUD itself–or it may break and embed in the myometrium of the uterus.
While Paragard® is highly effective at preventing pregnancy in sexually active women, if you become pregnant while using Paragard®, you are highly likely to experience an ectopic pregnancy. In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus and, typically, into one of the fallopian tubes.
If you get pregnant or think you may have conceived, call your medical professional right away. Please speak with your healthcare provider before copper IUD insertion to discuss potential risks or a side effect that won’t go away.
Preparing for a Copper IUD
Women may have their doctor insert the Paragard® copper IUD at any point during a regular menstrual cycle. If you recently delivered a baby, your healthcare provider may suggest waiting about two months post-delivery before insertion to reduce the risk of problems like expulsion.
Before the procedure, your healthcare provider may evaluate your overall health and perform a pelvic exam. You may also have a pregnancy test to ensure that you are not pregnant or to test you for sexually transmitted diseases.
What to Expect
You may request that your health care provider insert your Paragard® IUD during a regular office visit. The procedure takes minutes and requires a single insertion for up to 10 years of pregnancy prevention.
Inserting the IUD
Your clinician will insert a speculum into your vagina, then sanitize your vagina and cervix with an antiseptic solution. The provider may use an instrument to align your cervical canal and uterine cavity.
Your health care provider will then:
- Fold down the arms of the IUD
- Place the IUD into an applicator tube
- Insert the tube into your cervical canal
- Position the copper device in the uterus
- Remove the tube
After the tube removal, Paragard® will remain in its location in your uterus. Your health care provider will trim the strings of the device and may record their length.
Women may experience dizziness, low blood pressure, nausea, cramping, or lower heart rate during the placement of their IUDs. You can alleviate additional pain and cramping by taking an NSAID such as ibuprofen before the procedure.
Following the Procedure
Roughly one month after placement, your health care provider may suggest a follow-up examination to ensure that the device is still in place and check for signs of infection.
Contact your health care provider immediately if you think you may have become pregnant, had potential STD exposure, or if you are experiencing unusual or heavy vaginal bleeding, foul vaginal discharge, increasing pelvic pain or several abdominal pain and tenderness, or unexplained fever. If you believe your Paragard® has moved, it’s critical to call your healthcare provider.
For most people, the removal of IUDs typically takes place at your clinic’s office. Your provider will grasp the strings of the device and gently pull. The T-shaped arms will fold upward, allowing easy removal from the uterus.
Many people experience light cramping or bleeding during the removal and, in rare cases, may need to undergo a more complicated removal or surgery to withdraw a broken or embedded IUD.
If you are considering an IUD, be sure to speak with your health care provider to determine the best option for your body and lifestyle.