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What is a Contraceptive Coil?

By Amanda R. Bell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A contraceptive coil, also known as an intrauterine device (IUD), is a form of birth control for women that can last anywhere from five to 10 years. It is a small, t-shaped device that is inserted vaginally and, in most cases, stays in place until removed by a doctor. The hormonal version slowly releases progesterone to prevent pregnancy, while the copper version naturally kills sperm. This type of birth control can be inserted quickly and easily and is one of the most low-maintenance birth control methods available.

A hormonal contraceptive coil can prevent pregnancy for up to five years. It not only kills sperm, but also thickens the cervix to block sperm from entering. It thins the lining of the uterus, thus making it extremely difficult for any fertilized eggs to implant and grow into a fetus. This threefold protection against pregnancy, and the five year length of protection, have made this contraceptive coil increasingly popular among women. In the first year following implantation, approximately only one in 1,000 women experience a pregnancy.

The original IUD is shaped much like the hormonal version; instead of a release of progesterone, however, this contraceptive variant relies on copper coils that are wrapped around the t-shaped device to prevent pregnancy. Copper is naturally deadly to sperm, killing them before they reach the cervical opening. Due to the fact that this type of birth control does not rely on artificial hormones for protection against unwanted pregnancy, it can safely stay inside a woman for up to 10 years. Unlike hormonal contraceptive coils, it cannot prevent pregnancy, however, if any sperm happens to make it past the copper. In the first year following implantation, approximately six in 1,000 women experience a pregnancy.

Both types of contraceptive coils can be inserted in a matter of minutes by a doctor. While the procedure is typically not painful, especially for women who have already given birth, in some cases a local anesthetic is used to reduce any discomfort. Depending on a woman's medical history, oral antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent any possible infection. For the next few days, a woman can expect to experience mild cramping and light bleeding or spotting.

Following the insertion of the IUD, a secondary form of birth control is needed for approximately four to six weeks. A follow-up exam then ensures that the contraceptive coil is still in place. At this point, for women in a committed relationship, the second form of birth control can be discontinued. It is important to note that a contraceptive coil does not protect a woman from any sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or from contracting HIV/AIDS. If contracting of any of these diseases is possible, a condom should be used during every sexual encounter to ensure a woman's health.

For the next five to 10 years, depending on the type of IUD used, a woman only has to check that the coil is in place after every menstrual cycle. A small, plastic string can be felt inside the vagina to make sure the IUD is in place. During the insertion and follow-up exam, the doctor typically shows the patient how to feel for the device.

The hormonal contraceptive coil can reduce bleeding during menstrual cycles, shorten those cycles, and minimize cramping. The copper version, however, can increase bleeding and cramping for some women. Both types of IUD should not be inserted when pregnant or used by those who have liver disease or a pelvic infection. Unlike oral birth control, rings, and patches, the IUD is virtually free of human error; some studies have shown that it can also reduce a woman's risk of developing some cancers. As with any birth control method, however, a woman should discuss all of her options with her doctor to help make the best decision.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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