IUDs for Teens

Skeptical about your teenage daughter’s choice to use an intrauterine device (IUD) as a form of birth control? New findings published in the May issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology might help put your mind at ease. According to the study, IUDs are as safe for teenagers as they are for adults and provide a highly effective, hassle-free method of preventing unwanted pregnancy.

The largest IUD study to date, conducted by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, helps assuage the fear among patients and doctors that IUDs put teens at a high risk for serious complications, such as infertility caused by pelvic inflammatory disease.

"Today's IUDs are not the same as the ones that existed decades ago and are undeserving of the outdated stigma they carry," said lead author Abbey Berenson, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women's Health at UTMB, in a press release. "Modern IUDs are safe, cost-effective, and provide years of worry-free birth control. Though more research is needed, this study shows that IUDs should be among the options considered to address teen pregnancy rates."

Outdated Stigmas and New Research

IUDs first attracted negative attention in the late 1970s, when an IUD called the Dalkon Shield was removed from the market because it was found to cause a number of harmful side effects, including bacterial infections, septic miscarriages, and in some cases, death. More than 30 years later, IUDs still get a bad rap and are rarely recommended for teenagers due to the fear of severe complications.

However, Berenson's study shows that rates of IUD complications among teens are no higher than rates among adult women.

“For many years, IUDs were infrequently used in the U.S., especially among teenagers, so it was not possible to do this type of study,” Berenson said in an interview with Healthline. “Recently, use of the IUD has increased enough among teenagers to make it possible to examine adverse effects among this population.”

In order to study IUD-related complications among teens, researchers examined the insurance claims of about 90,000 IUD users ages 15 to 44. After comparing the results by age and type of IUD—hormonal or copper—they found that complications such as ectopic pregnancy and pelvic inflammatory disease occurred in less than one percent of women regardless of their age.

They also discovered that rates of early discontinuation were the same for teenagers and older women, and that hormonal IUDs were associated with fewer complications and lower rates of discontinuation than copper IUDs for women of all ages.

“I think that this study, along with others that have been conducted on this topic and recommendations by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], will help parents and doctors appreciate that use of the IUD should be discussed when counseling teens who request birth control,” Berenson said.

The Advantages of IUDs

While all forms of contraception carry some risks, they also confer many benefits, which is why it's so important to discuss all your options with your healthcare provider to find the method of birth control that is right for you or your daughter.

According to Plannedparenthood.org, “the ParaGard and the Mirena IUDs are two of the least expensive, longest lasting forms of birth control available to women today." They may help lighten periods and can even be used during breastfeeding. And the ParaGard IUD doesn’t affect a woman's hormone levels.

“The primary benefit is that the teenager does not have to remember to take a pill every day or come back to the doctor for a shot (as with Depo-Provera) every three months,” Berenson said. “This is difficult for some teenagers to do. Thus, the chance of experiencing an unintended pregnancy while using an IUD is much lower than with use of some other methods.”

While only time will tell, the increase in the number of American women who use IUDs for birth control is a good sign that physicians are beginning to put old stigmas behind them for the benefit of young women everywhere. 

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