Toward the end of last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its official recommendation that intrauterine devices (IUDs) should be used as the first line of contraceptive to prevent unplanned pregnancies.
An IUD is a long-lasting birth control method that the AAP recommended as the best for teens because of its “efficacy, safety and ease of use.” The AAP recommends teens use condoms with every sexual act, as well.
But what is an IUD and is it safe?
Intrauterine devices are birth control devices that are inserted into a woman’s uterus by her doctor. They can be made of plastic or metal, and have a string attached to them. IUDs can contain copper or a form of the hormone progesterone.
An IUD works to prevent pregnancy in several ways. It can prevent sperm from reaching the egg, slow the movement of the eggs from the fallopian tubes to the uterus, prevent the eggs from being fertilized even if sperm reach them, and can keep a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
Women around the country are realizing the dangers of having IUDs placed, and have even filed lawsuits against IUD makers. One such lawsuit is against Bayer Pharmaceuticals and their IUD named Mirena. Nearly 500 cases allege Bayer mislead the public, knowingly produced a defective product and avoided revealing dangerous side effects, including risk of perforation of the uterus and the device migrating to another location in the body.
The most common side effects are increased menstrual bleeding, cramps, and spotting between menstrual periods. However, there are very serious side effects that can occur that include:
- Risk of infection in the fallopian tubes
- Risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility
- Risk of the IUD embedding in the uterine wall
- Damage to the uterus and potential damage to other organs
- Risk of internal bleeding
At Options for Women, we take the health of women very seriously. The risks associated with IUDs are very real, and very scary, with potentially permanent repercussions.
But that isn’t all we’re worried about. IUDs can act as an abortifacient. That means that should an egg become fertilized, the IUD prevents pregnancy from occurring by preventing the fertilized egg from imbedding into the wall of the uterus.
We spoke with Lakeland pediatrician Dr. Fred Wehle to better understand how IUDs work and why parents should be concerned about the AAP recommendation.
“The AAP policy statement emphasizes the effectiveness of using an IUD to prevent pregnancy in sexually active young women,” says Dr. Wehle. “The policy, however, does not adequately stress the importance of fully informing the patient regarding the potential complications or the possibility of preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. It also does not emphasize the importance of ethical, cultural and religious beliefs of the individual patient and its importance in sexual responsibility choices. I feel that a truly informed decision can only be made by the patient when all of these factors are considered.”
We, along with Dr. Wehle, are concerned that IUDs are recommended without a serious discussion about the risks associated, and that if fully informed, many patients and their parents who choose IUDs might choose otherwise.
Another so-called advantage is that you no longer have to remember to take a birth control pill each day. Physicians and parents may think this is an advantage for sexually active teens who may forget to take the pill, increasing their risk of pregnancy. However, the IUD can come out in the first few months after placement, and you have to continue to check to be sure it is still in place.
In addition to that, IUDs do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Patients who opt for an IUD must still use a condom every time they engage in sexual activity. An IUD can give patients a false sense of security, and perhaps lead them to engage in more sexual activity because they no longer fear becoming pregnant.
We are disappointed in the AAP’s recommendation and ask all parents and patients to do proper research before choosing a birth control method.
Dr. Wehle perfectly summed up our position on IUDs when he said, “I hope that a fully informed young woman would not choose an IUD.”