Effective Yet Dangerous: The Harsh Truth of Intrauterine Devices

Effective Yet Dangerous - The Harsh Truth of Intrauterine Devices

The concept of birth control is only just a little over 100 years old. Until the late 19th century, women had no way to stop conception (or manipulate the process). This practice of postponing conception became the most popular around the time when family planning became the cultural norm.

After marriage, the couple had the freedom to decide whether or not to have children immediately. Over the years, several forms of birth control have been made available. These include the oral contraceptive pill, vaginal ring, barrier methods, and intrauterine devices or IUDs.

This article will exclusively focus on IUDs. Though found to be effective, this device has gained a reputation for being harmful to women’s health. We will discuss the history of the intrauterine device (in brief) before focusing on its benefits and risks involved. 


History and Function of IUDs

Oral contraceptive pills came into the picture only in the 1960s. However, it was the intrauterine device that entered the scene in the first decade of the 20th century. The IUD normally looks like a T-shaped device (about a quarter’s size) with a copper wire secured around the plastic.

It works on the principle of triggering an immune response in the body. In other words, the IUD is similar to an intrauterine system (IUS). The only difference is that the latter releases progesterone whereas the former releases copper inside the uterus.

The copper then alters the cervical mucus, and the body generates an immune response. The body will now view the IUD as an intruder and quickly spring into action. This makes it next to impossible for the sperm to fertilize an egg. IUDs are touted to be highly effective and can postpone conception for up to 10 years.

Being a non-surgical device, an IUD is inserted into the uterus using a speculum followed by a special inserter. This process should not take more than five minutes, as stated on the Planned Parenthood website. Similarly, the removal process is also painless and non-surgical. The healthcare provider will gently grasp the IUD strings with forceps and pull on them.


Comparing the Benefits with the Side Effects

According to the Cleveland Clinic, IUDs are a popular form of birth control, second only to contraceptive pills. This means a vast majority of women use this device until they are ready to become mothers. There are certain exceptions in the sense that some women won’t qualify for IUD use.

These include pregnant women, those with a sexually transmitted infection (STI), those with cervical cancer, and those with issues of vaginal bleeding. Also, women with a copper allergy (Wilson disease) and liver disease are advised against using an IUD.

One of the major benefits of an IUD is that it is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. There are other advantages like –

  • These devices are cost-effective and often covered by Medicaid and private insurers.
  • A woman can have it removed if she decides to try other birth control options.
  •  There is no worry about missing a pill or forgetting a birth control shot.
  • Copper IUDs start working within five days of insertion. This makes them ideal for emergency contraception.

Notwithstanding the benefits, there are risks or complications involved. One side effect is that copper IUDs can worsen menstrual bleeding or cramps (for a couple of months after insertion).

Another major complication has to do with the manufacturing defect of such devices. Over the past two decades, thousands of cases of device breakage and migration have emerged. According to TorHoerman Law, women have suffered from painful injuries like infection, infertility, organ damage, internal bleeding, and a perforated uterine lining.

These women have filed a lawsuit against the IUD manufacturer. One case in point is the Paragard lawsuit filed against producers, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Cooper Surgical. Plaintiffs have alleged that the companies knew about the design defects and complications but failed to issue a proper warning. Even healthcare providers were unaware of the risks.

As of 2024, over 2,400 cases have been filed, with average Paragard IUD settlement amounts ranging between $10,000 and $400,000. Currently, attorneys are accepting new cases and also preparing for Bellwether trials. The first among these trials is scheduled to happen this year.

Though the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the trial, it will likely be denied. Once the trial verdict is released, there’s a greater chance of faster case resolutions and fair payouts.


Are There Any Safe Alternatives?

Presently, Paragard IUD is the only copper-based IUD device available in the US. In light of the risks involved, women are and should be wary of using this form of birth control. As of now, the device has not been recalled.

This further increases the risk of women being injured (which means the number of lawsuits will also increase). As awareness grows, women are exploring their available options (in search of safer alternatives).

As per Planned Parenthood, no form of birth control is perfect. This means each available option comes with risks and side effects. For example – even birth control pills can lead to side effects like sore breasts, nausea, changes in the menstrual cycle, and spotting. In extremely rare cases, they can even lead to death.

However, if all the options must be weighed in, the safest of them would be condoms. They will not only prevent pregnancy but also minimize the chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). For backup protection, Planned Parenthood recommends using condoms in combination with other forms of birth control, like the pill.


As we have seen, IUDs have failed to keep up with their manufacturers’ claims. However, unsuspecting women still use them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10.4% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 use IUDs to prevent conception. 

This percentage includes users of both hormonal IUDs and copper-based IUDs. This is essentially because of the effectiveness of such devices (only 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year despite using an IUD). 

Even so, the question of the hour is whether the benefits are worth the risks involved. The answer seems to be a resounding “No.”