Outside of sterilization or avoiding sex altogether, the intrauterine device (IUD) is the most effective type of contraception. Unlike a pill or condom, you can have it set and forget about it. While the IUD has come a long way since it was first created, is this contraceptive method free of significant potential health risks?
Since the 2000s, the popularity of sperm-slaying devices has been increasing steadily. One such device is the Paragard.
IUDs are now the third most popular birth control method worldwide — sterilization and male condoms are the first and second most common ones. There’s also a big push from health providers to recommend IUDs as a first-line option.
However, IUDs have not entirely caught on as only a minority of women use them. For example, in the United States, only 8.3% of women use such a device for contraception.
One reason for Paragard’s reduced use is that it’s still expensive to buy and insert. Another reason for its unpopularity is that it has a bit of an image problem.
There are plenty of side effects and potential health risks listed by the manufacturer and other dangers reported by thousands of women. In the light of the IUDs’ complicated history, this isn’t particularly surprising.
A short history of IUDs
In the late 19th Century, medical professionals believed that placing a foreign object in a woman’s reproductive organs could prevent pregnancy. To begin with, they were pretty much inserting random things made from all types of materials, such as bone and cat guts, and later from metal screws with long, forked tails. These early precursors to the IUD were called stem pessaries and were placed in the uterus entrance.
The 1920s saw the emergence of the first mainstream IUDs. One German design was a simple ring of metal that was placed in the womb. Doctors also soon began performing scientific studies to see if these devices worked. From then onwards, IUDs took off.
In the 1960s, in the United States, Dalkon Corporation introduced the Dalkon Shield IUD with a broad shell, like horseshoe crabs. Doctors believed that IUDs with a larger surface area would be more effective.
But, instead, they led to widespread infections, infertility, and an unacceptably high risk of pregnancy. Dalkon Shield IUDs caused a massive public scandal, and more than 50,000 women ultimately filed successful lawsuits against the manufacturer.
Is the modern Paragard IUD safe?
Today’s Paragard IUDs are tiny devices no bigger than 32mm by 36mm. About the length of a paperclip, they come in the form of a T-shaped piece of plastic. In addition, they have a portion wrapped in copper and a dangling tail of threads. Paragard IUDs must be placed inside the womb to work, where they can remain for up to 10 years.
Paragards are incredibly good at preventing pregnancy, and they work for two reasons. The first is that copper IUDs are fearsome sperm killers. It’s the copper that prevents pregnancy by paralyzing and even killing sperm, making egg fertilization highly unlikely.
The second reason is that any object in the womb leads to an inflammatory response: A particular type of white blood cells rushes to the area where they eat sperm and produce toxic waste. IUDs increase the number of white blood cells in the womb by 1,000%.
The modern versions of IUDs that contain copper are generally considered safe and effective, and they require no maintenance aside from insertion and removal. But, they still present some health risks.
The most severe risk is the possibility the Paragard will break during removal. This hazard has been reported by more than 3,000 women who have said the Paragard IUD broke in their bodies.
When women experience breakage during removal, they could end up having to undergo invasive and expensive surgeries. Why? To get the retained fragments out of their bodies.
Paragard breakage during removal can also cause injuries. That can lead to other problems, such as scarring, infections, or damage to nearby organs. It can even cost women their ability to bear a child after being forced to have a hysterectomy.
According to some opinions, breakage happens because the T-shaped IUD is defective in design. The device’s arms stick out at rigid 90-degree angles, making them prone to break off easily or get stuck during removal.
There are also other possible risks:
- The IUD will be pushed through the uterus wall while it’s being inserted
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- An increase in the risk of infections
- Ectopic pregnancy
The Paragard IUD may break during removal
Currently, many women have some significant concerns: Having a copper IUD inserted will be painful and cause injury. And while using a Paragard IUD doesn’t always come with a severe injury, there is undoubtedly a risk of this happening.
Many women don’t mince words about their own experiences. For example, in terms of the intensity of the pain of insertion or removal, they say it can be a 10/10. Doctors now say that providers often underestimate women’s pain. This implies that all women should be given the option of having numbing medication before insertion and removal, hoping that this might increase the number of women getting IUDs.
But what can be done when women have adverse effects followed by injury? In these cases, women can either report the issues to their doctors and directly to the FDA using the available online reporting form.
Women can also file lawsuits to send the manufacturer a loud message that getting hurt was not okay. For example, recent Paragard lawsuits were filed based on the IUD’s defective design, and the manufacturer’s — Cooper Companies, who bought Paragard from Teva Pharmaceuticals in 2017 — failed to warn about the risk of the device breaking.
About the writer
Hilda Oltean is a case manager at Atraxia Law, specializing in working with women severely injured by the ParaGard IUD. Hilda helps clients establish if they are eligible for compensation through an individual claim or class-action lawsuit by conducting interviews, gathering and organizing the necessary information.