ParaGard is an intrauterine device (IUD) that's inserted into the uterus for long-term birth control (contraception). The T-shaped plastic frame is wrapped with copper wire coils that continuously release copper to bathe the lining of the uterus. ParaGard produces an inflammatory reaction in the uterus that is toxic to sperm. If fertilization occurs, ParaGard keeps the fertilized egg from implanting in the lining of the uterus.
ParaGard is the only copper IUD available in the U.S. ParaGard prevents pregnancy for up to 10 years after insertion.
Why it's done
ParaGard offers effective, long-term contraception. Among various benefits, ParaGard:
- Eliminates the need to interrupt sex for contraception or seek partner compliance
- Can remain in place for up to 10 years
- Can be removed at any time, followed by a quick return to fertility
- Decreases the risk of endometrial cancer and possibly cervical cancer
- Can be used while breast-feeding — though there may be an increased risk of perforation or expulsion when inserted soon after delivery
- Doesn't carry the risk of side effects related to hormonal birth control methods
- Can be used for emergency contraception if inserted within five days after unprotected sex
ParaGard isn't appropriate for everyone, however. Your health care provider may discourage use of ParaGard if you:
- Have uterine abnormalities that interfere with the placement or retention of ParaGard
- Have a pelvic infection, such as pelvic inflammatory disease
- Very recently gave birth or had an abortion
- Have uterine or cervical cancer
- Have unexplained vaginal bleeding
- Are allergic to any component of ParaGard
- Have a disorder that causes too much copper to accumulate in your liver, brain and other vital organs (Wilson's disease)
- Have or are at high risk of a sexually transmitted infection
- Had previous problems with an IUD
Less than 1 percent of women who use ParaGard will get pregnant in the first year of typical use. If you do conceive while using ParaGard, you're at higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy — when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube. However, because ParaGard prevents most pregnancies, women who use it are at lower risk of having an ectopic pregnancy than are other sexually active women who are not using contraception.
ParaGard doesn't offer protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Side effects associated with ParaGard include:
- Bleeding between periods
- Inflammation of the vagina (vaginitis)
- Pain during sex
- Severe menstrual pain and heavy bleeding
- Vaginal discharge
It's also possible to expel ParaGuard from your uterus. You may be more likely to expel ParaGard if you:
- Have never been pregnant
- Have heavy or prolonged periods
- Have severe menstrual pain
- Previously expelled an IUD
- Are younger than age 20
- Had the IUD inserted immediately after childbirth or an abortion
How you prepare
Your health care provider will evaluate your overall health and do a pelvic exam before inserting ParaGard. He or she may also recommend screening for STIs. You can have ParaGard inserted anytime during a normal menstrual cycle if you've been consistently using another birth control method or you haven't had sex since your last period. If you're breast-feeding, have irregular periods or haven't been consistently using birth control, you may need to take a pregnancy test before ParaGard is inserted or have it inserted during a period.
Taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), one to two hours before the procedure can help reduce cramping.
What you can expect
ParaGard is typically inserted in a health care provider's office.
During the procedure
Your health care provider will insert a speculum into your vagina and cleanse your vagina and cervix with an antiseptic solution. Then he or she will use a special instrument to gently align your cervical canal and uterine cavity, and another tool to measure the depth of your uterine cavity. Next your health care provider will fold down ParaGard's horizontal arms and place the device inside an applicator tube. He or she will insert the tube into your cervical canal and carefully place ParaGard in your uterus. When the applicator tube is removed, ParaGard will remain in place. Your health care provider will trim ParaGard's strings so that they don't protrude too far into the vagina and may record the length of the strings.
During ParaGard insertion, you may experience dizziness, fainting, nausea, low blood pressure or a slower than normal heart rate (bradycardia). Rarely, it's also possible for the IUD to perforate the uterine wall or cervix.
After the procedure
After every period, check to feel that ParaGard's strings are protruding from your cervix. Don't pull on the strings. Four to six weeks after ParaGard is inserted, your health care provider may re-examine you to make sure the device hasn't moved and check for signs and symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause tubal damage or infertility.
While you're using ParaGard, contact your health care provider immediately if you have:
- Signs or symptoms of pregnancy
- Unusually heavy vaginal bleeding
- Foul vaginal discharge
- Worsening pelvic pain
- Severe abdominal pain or tenderness
- Unexplained fever
It's also important to contact your health care provider immediately if you think ParaGard is no longer in place. Call your doctor if:
- You have breakthrough bleeding or bleeding after sex
- Sex is painful for you or your partner
- The strings are missing or suddenly seem longer
- You feel part of the device at your cervix or in your vagina
Your health care provider will check the location of ParaGard and remove it if necessary.
ParaGard is usually removed in a health care provider's office. Your provider will likely use forceps to grasp the device's strings and gently pull. The device's arms will fold upward as it's withdrawn from the uterus. Light bleeding and cramping is common during removal. In some cases, removal may be more complicated. For example, if ParaGard has become embedded in your uterine wall, you may need local anesthesia and cervical dilation or hysteroscopy to have the IUD removed.