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The ParaGard intrauterine device is the only copper IUD available in the United States, and it's pretty unique among birth control methods. A tiny, T-shaped plastic device with copper wrapped around the stem and arms, the ParaGard IUD sits snugly in a non-pregnant uterus. 

Preventing pregnancy for up to 10 years, it's the longest-acting form of reversible birth control currently available, and it's also incredibly effective — more than 99 percent, actually.

How Does ParaGard Work?

ParaGard does not contain any hormones, unlike Mirena, another intrauterine device available in the US. This means that the copper is its "active ingredient". ParaGard works by causing an inflammatory reaction that prevents sperm from reaching the fallopian tubes. It may also interefere with the uterine lining in such a way to make the implantation of any fertilized egg impossible.

Who Should Consider ParaGard?

ParaGard is most suitable for women in monogamous relationships, who want the benefit of long-term protection against pregnancy but who do not need protection from sexually transmitted diseases. Menstruating women of all ages can use the copper coil.

Here's why ParaGard may appeal to you:

  • There are no hormones, so you don't have to worry about the potential side effects that can come with hormonal contraceptives.
  • It can stay in place for a decade, ensuring you don't need to worry about birth control for a very long time. It can, however, be removed whenever you want — and you'll see a speedy return to fertility once it is gone.
  • The ParaGard IUD reduces a woman's risk of endometrial cancer.
  • You can use it while breastfeeding (though it shouldn't be placed right after you give birth).
Finally, ParaGard is unique in that it can also be used as an emergency contraceptive. Have ParaGard placed after unprotected sex, and you have emergency and long-term contraception in one!

Why ParaGard May Not Be Right For You

As with all contraceptives, ParaGard is contraindicated for some women. Don't use ParaGard if you have a pelvic infection, uterine abnormalities, uterine or cervical cancer, unexplained vaginal bleeding between periods, or a copper allergy. If you have Wilson's disease, a condition in which copper accumulates in various organs, you can't use ParaGard either.

ParaGard may not be the best choice for you if you suffer from heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding — consider the Mirena instead. If you have previously had problems with an IUD, or if you are exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, ParaGard isn't the best choice for you either.

Side Effects You Need To Know About

If you choose ParaGard, it is possible — not inevitable — that you will experience (some of)  the following side effects:

  • Heavier menstrual bleeding and cramps.
  • Bleeding between periods.
  • Back ache.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Vaginal inflammation.
  • Increased vaginal secretions.

Women who do encounter these side effects are very unhappy with their contraceptive, and often decide to get it removed. If ParaGard is not covered by your insurance, you may want to take the possibility that you will experience side effects that will make you want to have the device removed into account. However, many women are very happy with their copper coils for a very long time.

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