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 Overview/Lessons Learned | Contraceptive Methods | Key Issues
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Intrauterine Devices

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are small flexible devices made of metal and/or plastic that prevent pregnancy when inserted into a woman's uterus through her vagina. The most widely used IUDs are copper-bearing IUDs. Inert (unmedicated) and progestin-releasing IUDs (levonorgestrel or progesterone) are less widely available. Unless otherwise stated, the following information applies to copper IUDs. IUDs are a safe and effective method of reversible, long-term contraception for most women. They do not affect breastfeeding, interfere with intercourse, or have hormonal side effects; only some gynecologic and obstetric conditions and infections preclude use of the method. Some characteristics of IUDs are highlighted below.


0.4% to 2.5% failure rate for copper IUDs and 0.1% failure rate for the levonorgestrel-IUD during the first year of typical use

Age limitations         

No restrictions on use for women age 20 and over

Parity limitations

No restrictions on use for parous women; nulliparous women can generally use IUDs if they do not have a history of pelvic infection, a previous ectopic pregnancy, or multiple sex partners (or partner who has other partners)

Mode of action

Through a combination of mechanisms: inhibiting sperm migration in the upper female genital tract, inhibiting ovum transport, and stimulating endometrial changes

Effect on STD risk

Not protective

Drug interaction


Duration of use

The Copper T 380A device remains effective for up to 10 years; the Multi-load copper IUD remains effective for up to five years; the levonorgestrel-releasing IUD is effective for at least five years. Most women can use IUDs safely throughout their reproductive years (if the woman is satisfied with the method and has no problems with it)

Return to fertility

Immediately upon removal

Return to Contraceptive Method List

Copyright 1997-2000, PATH.

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