Getting Back on Birth Control? Doctors Say IUDs Are the Best Option

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Updated January 30, 2017
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While many women turn to pills and condoms as their go-to contraceptive, doctors think they should try a different option. On Thursday, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists announced its plans to recommend intrauterine devices (IUDs) to patients who want to use birth control.

In its announcement, ACOG said it would revise its 2007 guidelines, which had instructed doctors to view IUDs as good options, but not stress them as a preference. Under the new guidelines, which were formulated after several studies, IUDs will be the “first-line” recommendations for all females.

Want to know how an IUD works? Well, it’s a small, plastic T-shaped device, made with either a copper or hormone coating, and is placed inside the uterus. The copper or hormones create an “environment” where sperm can’t survive.

The ACOG believes IUDs are the ideal choice because the user doesn’t have to use it “perfectly.” We all know that with contraceptives like condoms and birth control, it’s possible to forget or to use it improperly, but since an IUD is inserted by your doctor, there’s nothing you can really “mess up” — and those mess-ups really increase your risk of accidental pregnancy. In fact, a May study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the failure rate for contraceptive pills, patches and rings was 4.55 per 100 people, while the failure rate for  IUDs was .27 per 100.

So if IUDs are the better choice, than why do only 4.5 percent of American women use them? For starters, the price is far from affordable.

“The cost varies, but an IUD device itself is anywhere from $500 to $700,” said Dr. Tina Raine-Bennett, research director for the Women’s Health Research Institute at Kaiser Permanente Northern California and the chair of the ACOG committee. Not to mention, the office visit to place an IUD could add hundreds more. In comparison, a package of birth control pills can cost $10 to $25 per month.

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Some women may also have been scared away from IUDs since hearing of what happened in the 1970s. Back then, an IUD called the Dalkon Shield was sold to millions of women. Many women later reported pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), caused by infections from the IUD. After that, doctors had become less likely to recommend IUDs.

“That was one single brand,” Raine-Bennett said, “but it left a huge mark … There’s still a huge misperception, more on the part of providers.”

While ACOG can try to turn more women onto IUDs, until the cost and (albeit, unfair) reputation change, it may continue to remain an underdog in the birth control battle.

Have you ever used an IUD? If not, would you be willing to try?

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