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Web Information on IUDs Often Inaccurate

Researchers Say Misleading Information May Sway Women Against Intrauterine Devices

WebMD Health News

Dec. 3, 2003 -- Information on the web about intrauterine devices (IUDs) is often misleading and inaccurate, a new study shows. Researchers say this bad information could sway women against choosing that method of birth control.

Kirsten Moore, MPA, and Eve Weiss of the nonprofit Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) in Washington, D.C., surveyed physician- and consumer-oriented web sites. They concluded that a substantial number of sites overemphasize the IUD's risk of causing pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility. Their study appears in the December issue of Contraception.

Consumer-oriented sites seemed to contain the least accurate information, Moore tells WebMD. But, she says, that did not surprise her.

How IUDs Work

The intrauterine device (IUD) is a long-term method of birth control. It is a small, plastic, T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus by a health care provider. A plastic string tied to the end of the IUD hangs down through the cervix into the vagina. The string allows the woman to make sure the IUD is in place and is also used by a health professional to remove the IUD.

The IUD prevents fertilization of the egg by producing inflammation that kills sperm. IUDs that release progestin prevent fertilization by affecting how the sperm or egg move and by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. The copper in the most commonly used IUD causes changes that kill sperm.

"There is a lot of misinformation on the web generally," says Moore, president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project. "I don't think there's an intentional desire to mislead the consumer or provider," she says, adding that one problem seems to be that information on IUDs is not frequently updated because there is so little interest in the method in the U.S.

She and Weiss identified 28 web sites on contraception and 115 sites with IUD-specific information.

Sites were deemed current if they mentioned that the copper IUD and the progestin IUD were on the market as of September 2002, the month of the survey. They were called accurate if they contained peer-reviewed information on IUD failure rates, mechanisms of action, and the clinical insertion process. The researchers deemed sites false if they had claims that conflicted with peer-reviewed studies or World Health Organization guidelines.

Survey Says ...

All 28 contraception sites had information on the IUD; more than one-third were up-to-date and two-thirds accurately represented standard product information.

For the IUD-specific sites, less than half were current or accurate on standard information, and more than 20% had clearly false information, shows the study. Eighty-five percent reported that the IUD is highly effective, and 90% correctly stated it could be used for long-term birth control. Nearly three-quarters gave accurate information on side effects, such as irregular spotting and bleeding and menstrual cramps.

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