Using an IUD does slightly increase your risk of getting an infection in your ovaries, uterus, or fallopian tubes, that is often referred to as a pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Infection is an uncommon side effect, linked to insertion and typically shows up within the first 20 days. Pelvic inflammatory disease can lead to serious problems if left untreated, so you should contact your healthcare provider immediately if you suspect you have one.
What is an IUD, and how does it work?
An IUD, also known as an intrauterine device, is a birth control method designed for long-term use with little maintenance. It can be made with either copper or plastic and may or may not contain hormones. While the hormonal plastic IUDs can protect against pregnancy for three to five years, a copper IUD can last for up to ten.
A healthcare professional will place the IUD into the uterus, and once in place, you will no longer feel it. The IUD will begin working to prevent pregnancy immediately after placement by thickening the cervical mucus to make it difficult for sperm to get to where it needs to fertilize an egg. It also acts by causing changes in the lining of the uterus so that it is more difficult for an egg to implant if one is fertilized. Some IUDs also contain hormones that can help to prevent ovulation.
How can infection from an IUD occur?
Your IUD is not what will cause infection directly, but if there is an infection present when the IUD is inserted, then the IUD can cause it to spread further. The presence of common STDs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia can often be linked to the spread of infection when the IUD is inserted. Because of this, your doctor may want to perform an STI test and treat any issues before inserting your IUD. You can also obtain an infection from the spread of bacteria that can naturally occur in the vagina. This bacteria can be pushed to the reproductive organs during insertion, which can lead to PID.
What are the symptoms that an infection may be present?
In the event you have an infection, you will likely exhibit one or more of the symptoms listed below.
- Pain or cramping in your abdomen
- Vaginal discharge that may have a strong odor
- Pain during intercourse
- Difficulty or pain during urination
- Fever or chills
- Irregular periods
If you have any of the above symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately.
How will your healthcare provider diagnose your infection?
Your healthcare provider will likely start your appointment with questions about your system, followed by a physical exam. They may also perform blood or urine tests to check for the presence of infection. In some cases, an ultrasound or other imaging tests may be ordered.
How may your healthcare provider treat your infection?
Since a PID infection can lead to organ damage and chronic pain, your healthcare provider is likely to want to treat the infection as soon as possible. The first step in the treatment process is often a round of antibiotics. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe other medications to treat the underlying cause of the infection. Your IUD will not have to be removed if you begin to show signs of improvement within the first few days of treatment.
Can IUD infections be prevented?
Your highest risk of infection is during the first few weeks after the IUD has been inserted. You can prevent possible infections by treating any STIs prior to insertion and using a condom during the first few weeks after insertion if possibly exposed to STIs. You also will want to eliminate douching from your personal cleansing routine. The vagina contains a lot of natural bacteria, and the act of douching can cause this bacteria to spread farther toward your reproductive organs.
What are the other possible side effects of an IUD?
IUD side effects are not very common and usually quite minor, but it is important to be aware of any possible side effects, before starting a new birth control routine. You may find that side effects are stronger with certain brands. If you notice any of the issues below, you might want to consider talking to your healthcare provider about switching to another brand.
Common IUD side effects:
- Spotting or irregular cycles for the first six months to a year after insertion
- Periods becoming lighter and shorter or eventually ceasing altogether
- Increase premenstrual syndrome symptoms, typically related to increased hormones such as headaches, tenderness in the breast and acne or skin imperfections.
Rare but more serious side effects include:
- Expulsion of the IUD: This side effect is extremely rare and occurs when the IUD is discharged from the uterus accidentally. Expulsion can result in a complete dislodgment or a major position shift. In either case, your healthcare provider will need to reinsert it so that it can be effective again.
- Perforation of the uterus: Another extremely rare side effect that many women are concerned about when using an IUD is perforating their uterus. This occurs when the IUD shifts and actually punctures through the wall of the uterus. When this occurs, it will result in severe bleeding and possible infection and should immediately be addressed by a healthcare provider. Even though this can be a great fear of using an IUD it occurs so rarely there is hardly a cause for women who prefer this method of birth control to be concerned.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, or PID, is an infection that can be caused if bacteria present in outside of the body or inside the vagina is introduced into the uterus.
While there is a small risk of getting an infection from the insertion of the IUD, IUDs are known as an extremely safe and effective wat to protect against unwanted pregnancy. If you suspect you may have an infection, early treatment will be most effective. Contact your healthcare provider if you notice any possible signs of infection.