Know the Dangers of Paragard Before Getting a Copper IUD
A decade of effortless birth control may sound like a dream, but you should know about the conditions that could turn the Paragard IUD into a nightmare.
Deciding to get a copper IUD can be an empowering contraceptive choice. After all, you’re taking control of your fertility for the next 10 years, which is longer than all the other birth control products out there can promise. If you go this route, you’ll receive an IUD known as Paragard, the only of its kind to get approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Since Paragard sounds safe enough, many women enthusiastically get these IUDs without taking the time to learn the risks—and there are indeed risks—of having such a device in their bodies for so long. Luckily, we’re here to provide you with some health information about the Paragard IUD so that you can make the best decision for your health and well-being.
A Copper IUD Is the Only Non-Hormonal Birth Control Method
An intrauterine device, or IUD, is a small, T-shaped apparatus made of flexible plastic that’s inserted within the uterus.
Unlike hormonal IUDs that block sperm with progestin, thereby thinning your uterine lining and thickening your cervical mucus, the Paragard copper IUD doesn’t release any hormones into your body. Instead, the copper wire around Paragard creates an environment that’s toxic to sperm, thereby preventing pregnancy.
Available by prescription only, you can get the copper IUD Paragard at your local OB-GYN office or at any Planned Parenthood clinic.
Why Do People Get Copper IUDs?
Women looking to avoid having a baby in the long term often turn to the copper IUD Paragard because it prevents pregnancy for a full 10 years, making it an incredibly long-lasting birth control option compared to other products.
Copper intrauterine devices also work in a pinch, serving as emergency contraception when inserted within five days of unprotected sex. (That said, getting Paragard shouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment decision, but one that’s carefully thought out between you and your health care provider.)
Plus, many people love the fact that Paragard is hormone-free, which means it won’t cause weight gain or mood swings like other birth control products.
And with a success rate of over 99 percent, a copper IUD is more effective at preventing pregnancy than all other birth control methods. The Depo shot works 94 percent of the time while birth control pills, the patch, and the vaginal ring are all 91 percent effective.
Condoms come last with an 85 percent effectiveness rate, but you should still use them with an IUD since they’re the only birth control method that prevents sexually transmitted infections.
Compared to those other methods, Paragard prevents pregnancy so well because it provides the fewest opportunities for human error. You know the sudden panic you feel when you realize you forgot to take your birth control pill in the morning? Getting an IUD inserted once every decade will eliminate that.
People Who Shouldn’t Get Paragard
The Paragard copper IUD may end up doing more harm than good if you have certain health conditions. For example, infections in your cervix or uterus—especially within three months of a pregnancy or abortion—make a copper IUD risky. In particular, having an infection called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) would render you a poor candidate for Paragard.
The copper wire in the Paragard IUD can also cause issues for some women, particularly those who have a copper allergy. And if you have Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic disorder that causes excess copper to build up in vital organs including the brain and liver, you should steer clear of Paragard.
Other disqualifications include having a bicornuate or otherwise abnormally shaped uterus, cancers of the uterus or cervix, or sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. Other possible risks include heartbeat, dizziness, and seizures, since these conditions often occur during the IUD insertion process.
And, of course, you shouldn’t get Paragard if you’re already using a hormonal IUD or if you’re currently pregnant.
What to Expect During Paragard Insertion and Removal
Both procedures are relatively quick and easy, but there are a few things you should know beforehand.
IUD Insertion Procedure
In order to insert Paragard, your health care provider will put the device into a plastic applicator tube, push the tube into the vagina and through your cervix, and then release the device from the applicator into your uterus. Upon release, the IUD’s wings will extend into a T-shape, and two fishing-wire-like strings will remain inside the vagina to aid in removal later.
Some women report feeling a tad uncomfortable for only a few seconds during the procedure, but others describe sharp, nausea-inducing pain. Either way, you’ll probably experience some dizziness, cramping, or pinching for a few minutes, and your health care provider may suggest lying down for a few minutes until these side effects pass. When you feel ready, you can go home!
IUD Removal Procedure
Just like with the insertion process, no surgery is usually required for Paragard device removal. When the 10 years come to an end—or earlier, if you want—your removal appointment will consist of your health care provider grasping the IUD’s strings with forceps and gently pulling the device out of your body. You might experience some light bleeding and cramping during and shortly after the removal.
If you still want protection from pregnancy, you’ll need a new IUD, which you can typically have inserted during the same appointment if you’d like.
What Happens if You Get Pregnant with Paragard?
Less than one in 100 women still get pregnant with Paragard, but it can happen—and not just when the IUD is a last-ditch emergency contraception strategy. If you think that you’ve become pregnant while using Paragard, you should call your doctor immediately because the pregnancy could put you in danger.
Since IUDs keep sperm out of the uterus, pregnancy may indicate that a fertilized egg implanted elsewhere, possibly in a fallopian tube. This is called an ectopic pregnancy, a potentially life-threatening medical emergency that often requires surgery. Signs of an ectopic pregnancy include unusual vaginal bleeding or abdominal pain.
Even if the pregnancy did occur in your uterus, Paragard still poses some health risks, including severe infection, miscarriage, premature delivery, and death. To avoid these dangers, your health care provider may recommend removing Paragard, even though the procedure may result in a miscarriage.
However, it’s currently unclear whether or not leaving Paragard in will impact the health of the fetus. If you decide to continue the pregnancy with Paragard in place, you should check in with your doctor regularly and keep an extra close eye on your body for any worrying symptoms such as fever, chills, cramping, pain, bleeding, or vaginal discharge.
Paragard Can Cause a Myriad of Mild Side Effects
There’s a wide range of side effects that women may experience after getting the Paragard IUD.
The hallmark side effects of IUDs typically involve your menstrual cycle. Some women using Paragard report longer periods, excessively painful periods, or heavy bleeding that they didn’t previously experience each month. You may also notice some spotting in between periods.
Other common side effects from the Paragard device IUD include anemia, backache, pain and cramping, pain during sex, and vaginal discharge or irritation.
Fortunately, many of these side effects should go away or at least improve within a few months to a year. If they still persist, though, you should talk to your health care provider.
Paragard Can Also Cause Rarer, More Serious Side Effects
In addition to the aforementioned ectopic pregnancy risk, the Paragard IUD comes with some grave health concerns.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) or Endometritis
PID and endometritis—an inflammation of the inner uterine lining—are severe reproductive organ infections that can cause chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and even death when untreated. Antibiotics will cure most cases, but surgery may be necessary in some circumstances.
If you start to experience pelvic pain or pain during sex, unusual or bad smelling vaginal discharge, long-lasting or heavy bleeding, or fever and chills within a few weeks of receiving the IUD, call your health care provider ASAP.
In roughly two percent of women, Paragard may partially or completely fall out of the uterus, especially if you had the IUD inserted immediately after childbirth. If you start having excruciating pain or can no longer feel the threads, you should check with your health care provider to make sure the device is still in place.
IUDs can sometimes attach to the uterine wall. In this instance, you may need surgery in order to remove the Paragard device.
Perforation of the Uterus
In rare cases, the Paragard IUD may go through the uterine wall or cervix, causing scarring, infection, damage to other organs, and potentially infertility. Surgery may be required to repair the damage.
As you can imagine, this sensation is quite painful and can cause some blood, so look out for these signs shortly after getting the IUD. Breastfeeding women are more at risk for perforation, most likely due to their hormone levels.
Women Are Suing Over Paragard Device Breakage
Recently, Paragard found itself in the national spotlight due to a slew of lawsuits that claim the device can break and imbed in other organs, a painful event requiring surgery. In cases presented to previous manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals and current manufacturer Cooper Surgical, the plaintiffs of each lawsuit said that this side effect wasn’t properly represented in advertising.
Cooper Surgical does list “breakage of an embedded Paragard during non-surgical removal” under its post-marketing adverse side effects section, but advertising to the general public suggests that this outcome almost never happens, even though instructions to health care providers take great care to detail the risk.
The lawsuits demand that more research be conducted to see exactly how often the intrauterine device may break and imbed into the uterus during removal. In fact, one study led by Chicago-area OB-GYN Carlos M. Fernandez in 2015 confirmed that IUD breakage and embedment is a valid concern rather than a fluke—the latter being what the women bringing forth the claims had expected.
A court has dismissed one lawsuit on this matter, ruling with Teva; however, attorneys around the United States will still take cases from women who say Paragard injured them. But since lawsuits are no fun, we urge you to carefully read up on all possible IUD side effects beforehand so that you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Final Thoughts: Is the Paragard IUD Worth the Risk?
If you want to prevent pregnancy for as many years as possible, Paragard may be the long-term solution for you. However, copper IUDs aren’t for everyone, so you should talk to your doctor to determine the best form of birth control for your individual needs.