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Copper IUDs Found Safe, Effective

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WebMD Health News

Aug. 22, 2001 -- A new study finds that young women who are seeking a safe, effective, and inexpensive method of birth control should consider the copper intrauterine device, or IUD. But chances are most mothers of "Gen-Xers" who steadfastly cling to the belief that IUDs can cause infections and infertility will question the advice.

In fact IUDs have such a bad reputation in the U.S. that less than 1% of women seeking birth control are using the devices, says David Hubacher, PhD, an epidemiologist at Family Health International, a nonprofit firm headquartered in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Outside the U.S., Hubacher tells WebMD, the IUD is a very popular form of birth control, with up to 20% of European women using the device.

The IUD is a device inserted inside the uterus by a gynecologist. Once in place it prevents the sperm from fertilizing the egg, therefore preventing pregnancy. It is intended for long-term use of at least a year or two.

In a study reported in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, Hubacher compared the infertility risks of women who used copper IUDs to women who never used IUDs. He found that copper IUD use did not increase the risk of infertility. But he had to go to Mexico City to find enough IUD users to conduct the study.

The IUD "myth" does have an element of truth, says Philip Darney, MD, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at San Francisco General Hospital. Back in the 1960s and '70s IUDs were steadily growing in popularity until the introduction of the Dalkon Shield, says Darney, who wrote an editorial that accompanies Hubacher's study.

The Dalkon Shield was introduced in 1971 as a product that would relieve the heavy menstrual bleeding and painful cramping some women experienced with IUD use. Some 3.6 million units were sold, until the Shield was pulled from the market in 1974 following a CDC report linking the device to pelvic infections, sterility, and even death.

The IUD studied by Hubacher is a T-shaped plastic device that has a slender copper wire wound around its stem and copper sleeves covering its vertical arms. On average a gynecologist will charge $300 for the device and insertion. The device can be worn for up to 10 years.

In his study, Hubacher studied about 350 women who had infertility caused by blocked fallopian tubes, the type of damage believed to be associated with IUD use. He compared these women to around 950 women with infertility that was not caused by blocked tubes. He also studied over 580 healthy women who were pregnant for the first time. He asked all the women about copper IUD use and also tested them for the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia.

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