Deciding on birth control: the coil and the hormone coil.

Deciding on the coil or hormone coil for birth control.The coil is a reliable method of birth control.  It is also a method that you can forget about – no pills to remember or condoms to buy etc.

There are 2 types of coil – the copper coil, also called an intra-uterine contraceptive device (IUCD); and the hormone coil, also called an intra-uterine contraceptive system (IUCS).  We’re going to talk about both of these here.

What are the copper coil and the hormone coil?

Copper coils (IUCDs) are made of plastic and copper in a T shape, as you can see from the picture.

Hormone coils (IUCSs) are made of T-shaped plastic with a small ‘stick’ of hormone in them.  The most popular IUCS brand is called the Mirena coil.

They sit in the womb and the 2 threads at the bottom of the T come into the vagina.  This is so that you/your doctor or nurse can feel for them to check the coil is there.

The copper coil works by preventing a fertilized egg from settling (implanting) in the womb.  The copper also has an anti-sperm effect that causes the sperm to die before they get to the egg.

The hormone coil works by releasing a small amount of progestrogen, a hormone that causes the mucous in the cervix to become thicker and prevent the sperm getting through to meet an egg.  The hormone also makes the lining of the womb thinner and may also stop an egg being released from the ovary (ovulation).

How effective are the birth control coils?

The copper coil is more than 98% effective at preventing pregnancy.

The hormone coil is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

How do I use the coil?

The coil is a fit-and-forget method of birth control.  It is fitted by a specially trained nurse or doctor at the doctor’s office.

The doctor/nurse will ask you some health questions to check the coil is right for you.

S/he will ask you to lie on the couch with your knees bent up so that a speculum (see the

A speculum is used to open the vagina so the doctor can fit the coil.

picture) can be put gently into the vagina to open it.

The doctor/nurse will then use a special device to open the cervix and put the coil into the womb.

The procedure takes about 10 minutes.

You will probably have some cramping pains, like period cramps during and for a short time after the procedure, and some little spots of blood after.  Regular pain killers work well for the cramps.

You may be taught how to feel for the coil strings so that you know it’s in place.

You may be asked to go back to the doctor for a check after 2-3 months.

What are the advantages of the birth control coils?

  • The coils are fit-and-forget contraceptives.  You don’t need to remember to take a pill, buy condoms or take your temperature etc.
  • The hormone coil may make your periods lighter or disappear completely.
  • The hormone coil (the Mirena coil) can be left in place for up to 5 years.
  • The copper coil can be left in place for 5-10 years, depending on the type of copper could you have had fitted.
  • Both types of coil are good for women coming up to the menopause and who are thinking about contraception for this time in their lives.
  • The copper coil doesn’t affect your moods or libido.
  • There is no increased risk of cancers with birth control coils, but they do not protect you from cervical cancer as condoms would.
  • Your potential fertility returns as soon as the coil is removed.

What are the disadvantages of the birth control coils?

The copper coil can make your periods heavier and longer.

The hormone coil can give side effects of breast tenderness, spot-bleeding, changes in sex drive.  These usually settle in the first few months.

They can be a little uncomfortable when they’re fitted but this only lasts for a short time.

There is a greater risk of ectopic pregnancy with the birth control coils.  This is where a fertilized egg tries to settle (implant) in the fallopian tube and is a serious condition.

Is a coil right for me?

 If you want a contraceptive that you don’t have to think about then the coil is a good choice.  For example if your lifestyle is very busy, you travel a lot or are forgetful.

If you are looking for long-term birth control then the coils are a good choice as they can be left in place for 5-10 years, depending on the type.

If you have had breast cancer in the previous 5 years the hormone coil won’t be suitable for you.

If you have large fibroids in the womb or have an infection in the vagina/uterus that hasn’t been treated, neither of the coils will be suitable.

What are the side effects of using the birth control coils?

The copper coil potential side effects include:

  • Heavier, painful and longer periods
  • Risk of infection
  • Risk of ectopic pregnancy (see above)
  • Risk of the coil coming out – use other methods of contraception until you can see your healthcare provider if you think this has happened.
  • Damage to the womb.  This is a very tiny risk (0.2% chance) and one your doctor/nurse will discuss with you before it’s fitted.

The hormone coil’s potential side effects include:

  • Mood changes
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Irregular bleeding
  • Breast tenderness.  These first 4 side effects usually settle within the first few months of having the coil.
  • Risk of infection
  • Risk of ectopic pregnancy (see above)
  • Risk of the coil coming out – use other methods of contraception until you can see your healthcare provider if you think this has happened.
  • Damage to the womb.  This is a very tiny risk (0.2% chance) and one your doctor/nurse will discuss with you before it’s fitted.

 

Find out more:

In the UK see www.fpa.org.uk

In the US see www.plannedparenthood.org

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