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IUD (intrauterine device)

The intrauterine device (IUD) also known as the coil or copper IUD (Cu-IUD), is a small, T-shaped plastic device which contains copper. It is put into the uterus (womb) through the vagina by a specially trained doctor or nurse. 

The IUD is different to the IUS. The two look similar but work in different ways. The IUS has hormones in it, the IUD does not. 

Here are some key facts:

  • There are different types and sizes of IUD and they can work for between 5 and 10 years
  • The IUD is a long acting reversible contraception (or LARC) method - these methods don’t rely on you remembering to take them
  • The IUD is the only LARC method that doesn’t have hormones in it
  • Your fertility returns to normal as soon as the IUD is removed
  • The IUD is also known as ‘the coil’
  • The IUD is also the most effective method of emergency contraception
  • It doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) so you'll need to use condoms as well

How does the IUD work?

Pregnancy happens when sperm reaches an egg and fertilises it. The IUD works by;

  • Preventing the sperm from surviving inside a woman's body as copper is toxic to sperm. 
  • It may also stop a fertilised egg implanting in the womb.

It can stay in place and prevent pregnancy for between 5 and 10 years, depending on the type, or until you have it taken out.

The IUD is a long acting reversible contraception (or LARC) method - these methods don't rely on you remembering to take them, but they do need a trained doctor or nurse to administer or fit them for you. The IUD is the only LARC method that doesn’t have hormones in it.

Newer versions of the IUD have more copper in them and are over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that less than one woman in 100 will get pregnant in a year. 


How do I get the IUD?

The IUD needs to be fitted by a doctor or nurse who has been specially trained. It is available free of charge from a range of services including contraceptive clinics, your GP and Brook. Find your nearest using our find a service tool.

What will happen at the appointment?

When you go to get the IUD, you will be asked a few questions about your medical and family history, to work our what would suit you best. 

The IUD can be used as a form of emergency contraception. It could then be left in your uterus (womb) and be used as ongoing contraception.

If you decide to go ahead you'll discuss when would be a suitable time to have it fitted. Some services may be able to fit it at the same appointment, or you may need a second appointment.

You will need to have an internal examination (a doctor or nurse will look inside your vagina) to check the position and size of your uterus before the IUD can be fitted, and also to check for any signs of infection, sometimes you may also be given antibiotics when the IUD is fitted to prevent or treat an existing infection.

The appointment usually takes about 15-20 minutes. During the appointment you'll be asked to lay on the bed and remove the lower half of your clothing (e.g. trousers/skirt and underwear). You'll then have to open your legs and bend your knees so the doctor or nurse can use a speculum to slightly widen your vagina to help insert and guide the IUD into your uterus. The fitting itself shouldn't take longer than 5 minutes.

The doctor or nurse may discuss painkiller tablets/using local anaesthetic to make the fitting more comfortable.

After the IUD is fitted

You may also get some period-type pain and possibly some light bleeding for a few days afterwards.

The IUD has two threads which hang through the opening at the entrance of your uterus (cervix). The doctor or nurse will teach you to check the thread to make sure the IUD is in place. You should check the threads a few times during the first month and then at regular intervals.

It is very unlikely that the IUD will come out but if you are worried and can feel the IUD itself, or cannot feel the threads you should see a doctor or nurse straight away. You may also not be protected against pregnancy and may need to use additional contraception or emergency contraception.

Once the IUD is fitted, you will need to go back to the doctor or nurse after three to six weeks for a check up. You will then only need to go back if you have problems or when the IUD needs to be replaced (5 to 10 years depending on the type of IUD). You can return to the clinic if you are worried.  

When to seek help

You should go back to the or doctor or nurse if you notice any of the below symptoms:

  • Severe or prolonged stomach pains, especially if you feel unwell, hot and clammy
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding with or without clots

Contraception and sexual health services such as Brook are free and confidential, including for people under the age of 16. Health professionals work to strict guidelines and won’t tell anyone else about your visit unless they believe you're at serious risk of immediate harm. Find out more about Brook’s confidentiality policy.

Starting the IUD and when you are protected from pregnancy

The IUD can be fitted any time in your cycle if it is certain that you are not pregnant, and you will be protected immediately. You may also be required to take a pregnancy test after the IUD has been fitted. 

How is the IUD removed?

The IUD must be removed by a trained doctor or nurse, the procedure should be less painful and quicker than having the IUD fitted. If you are not going to have another IUD you will need to use additional contraception, such as condoms, for the seven days before the IUD is taken out if you do not want to become pregnant.

Your fertility should return to normal as soon as the IUD is removed.

Advantages of the IUD

  • It does not interrupt sex
  • Once you have had it fitted, it prevents pregnancy for between 5 and 10 years depending on the type of IUD 
  • It protects you from pregnancy immediately
  • Your fertility will return to normal after the IUD has been removed
  • You don’t have to remember to take a pill every day
  • It can be used by women who cannot use contraception that contains hormones, such as the combined pill, progestogen-only pill (POP), vaginal ring, IUS and contraceptive patch
  • The IUD is not affected by vomiting, diarrhoea or other medicines like other methods of contraception
  • The IUD can also be fitted as a method of emergency contraception

Disadvantages of the IUD

  • It does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Periods may be heavier, more painful or last longer
  • There is a small risk of getting an infection after the IUD is inserted
  • There is a small risk of the IUD becoming pushed out or the IUD becoming displaced
  • There is a very small risk of perforation of the uterus
  • If you do become pregnant while you are using the IUD there is a small risk of ectopic pregnancy

What can make the IUD less effective?

If the IUD moves out of place it will be less effective. You will need to go back three to six weeks after it has been fitted so your doctor or nurse can check the IUD is in place. They will also teach you how to check that it is in place - you should check yourself once a month or at regular intervals.

How will it affect my periods?

You may have irregular bleeding patterns during the first few months of using the IUD. For some women their periods are heavier, longer or more painful. While using the IUD you can use tampons and/or towels.

However it is also important to check that the bleeding is not due to any other cause. It is recommended that you discuss any concerns with your nurse or doctor. It might be possible to give you additional medication that can help with the bleeding.

Using the IUD after having a baby

The IUD can be used whilst breastfeeding and will not affect your milk supply. It is usually fitted from four weeks after you have given birth, although it can be fitted within 48 hours. 

If you are having the IUD fitted from four weeks onwards you will need to use additional contraception from day 21 of giving birth and until the IUD is fitted.

Using the IUD after having an abortion or miscarriage

If you were pregnant for less than 24 weeks an IUD can be fitted immediately after an abortion or miscarriage by a trained doctor or nurse, and you will be protected against pregnancy straight away. If you were pregnant for longer than 24 weeks you may need to wait a few weeks before using the IUD.

Last review date: September 2017
Next review date: September 2019