If you use an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control, someday you may need to have it removed for one reason or another. For most women, removing an IUD is as straightforward as the insertion process. Keep reading to learn more about the types of IUDs and the removal process.

What is an IUD?

An IUD is a small, T-shaped device that’s inserted into a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. IUDs can be copper or hormonal.

It’s one of the most effective forms of reversible birth control, with fewer than 1 in 100 women with IUDs becoming pregnant each year.

Copper IUD

The copper IUD is known as ParaGard in the United States. This T-shaped device contains a stem wrapped with copper wire and two copper sleeves. These parts release copper into the uterus for up to 10 years. This prevents sperm from reaching the egg.

Hormonal IUD

There are three different hormonal IUD options available. Mirena lasts up to five years and releases progestin in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. The progestin thickens cervical mucus to block sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg. The hormone can also prevent eggs from being released, and thins the uterine lining to prevent implantation.

A similar option is Liletta, which lasts for three years. Liletta releases a comparable amount of progestin.

That last option is Skyla. This IUD lasts three years, is smaller in size, and releases the least amount of progestin.

Inserting an IUD

Inserting an IUD requires a visit to your doctor’s office. Once you’ve determined which IUD is right for you, your doctor will insert the IUD during a short procedure. This procedure doesn’t require anesthesia and is generally done in a matter of minutes.

Here’s what you can expect during the insertion of an IUD:

  1. Your doctor will use what’s called a tenaculum to grab and stabilize your cervix. This may pinch a bit, but the feeling generally lasts no longer than 10 seconds.
  2. They’ll measure your uterus with a sticklike instrument.
  3. They’ll then place the IUD in your uterus using an applicator straw.

You may experience mild pain and cramping, but it usually subsides after a short time. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, and a heating pad, can be used to relieve any discomfort following the insertion of an IUD.

Living with an IUD

Once you have an IUD placed, you’re protected against pregnancy for three to 10 years. The duration that your IUD protects against pregnancy depends on the type of IUD that you choose.

You’ll have a follow-up appointment with your doctor about a month after the IUD is inserted. During this appointment, your doctor will make sure the IUD stayed in place and hasn’t caused an infection.

You should also confirm that your IUD remains in place on a monthly basis. After insertion, its strings will hang down into your vagina. You can verify that the IUD is still in place by checking for these strings. You shouldn’t be able to touch the IUD. You should contact your doctor if:

If you have a copper IUD, you may experience heavier periods accompanied by menstrual cramping. This is usually temporary. Many women find that their cycles regulate two to three months after insertion. If you have a hormonal IUD, you may find that your period is lighter or disappears.

Other side effects can include:

IUDs don’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so you should also use a barrier method.

Removing an IUD

Your doctor can remove your IUD at any time. You may consider removing it because:

  • You’re trying to get pregnant.
  • You’ve had it for the maximum amount of time recommended, and it needs to be replaced.
  • You’re experiencing prolonged discomfort or other undesirable side effects.
  • You no longer need this method of birth control.

For most women, the removal of an IUD is a simple procedure performed in a doctor’s office. To remove the IUD, your doctor will grasp the threads of the IUD with ring forceps. In most cases, the arms of the IUD will collapse upward, and the device will slide out.

If the IUD doesn’t come out with a slight pull, your doctor will remove the device using another method. You may need a hysteroscopy to remove the IUD if it has attached to your uterine wall. During this procedure, your doctor widens your cervix to insert a hysteroscope. The hysteroscope allows small instruments to enter your uterus. You may require anesthesia for this procedure. It can take between five minutes to an hour to complete a hysteroscopy.

Recent research also indicates that an ultrasound-guided removal is an effective way to take out an IUD that won’t come out with forceps. This procedure can be less invasive than a hysteroscopy and more cost effective.

Deciding what birth control is right for you

There are many birth control options available, and your doctor can work with you to find the best method. If you decide to use an IUD for contraception, work with your doctor to figure out which IUD best suits your needs. After insertion of your IUD, be sure to check the strings regularly.

Notify your doctor if you notice that the IUD has moved or if you experience any side effects. If your IUD needs to be removed for any reason, remember that the procedure should be a relatively simple process performed at your doctor’s office.