Study: IUDs Offer Safe Contraception Option for Teens But Rarely Prescribed

April 23, 2013

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are a fairly safe, long-acting form of contraception, but many myths about the devices persist. For example, it’s somewhat common to hear that women who haven’t already had a baby, and especially teenagers, are not good candidates for IUDs; neither of these is true.

For a new study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers reviewed data from health insurance records of more than 90,000 women who had IUDs inserted (including both hormonal and copper IUDs). They looked specifically at how many records indicated a IUD-related complication, discontinuation, or pregnancy.

When the researchers looked at the data by age group, they found that women ages 15-19 did not discontinue using IUDs any more frequently than older women. Teens were slightly more likely than older women to experience dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps) or absence of menstruation within one year of insertion, or failure of the IUD to prevent a normal pregnancy, but rates for both of these were very low. Only 1.8 percent of teens using a levonestrogel-releasing IUD experienced a pregnancy (3.6 percent for copper), and 2.4 percent experienced cramping (6.2 percent for copper).

Pelvic inflammatory disease occurred in less than half a percent of teens. Women of all ages using a copper IUD were much more likely to stop using it than women using the hormone-releasing IUD, and this was most true for teens, although it’s not completely clear why. Rates of removal within 30 days for any complication were estimated to be very low for teens (2.9 percent for hormone IUD, 5.2 percent for copper) as well as older women.

The researchers conclude:

Overall, these data indicate that the IUD is an appropriate contraceptive for younger women and is not likely to cause serious side effects among teenagers. Physician recommendations play an important role in their patients’ decision-making, and their recommendation of the IUD could increase the use of this cost-effective and safe method of birth control among teenagers. Thus, physicians should include information about this highly effective method when they counsel young patients on their contraceptive options to help reduce the unintended pregnancy rate among teenagers in the United States.

The authors cite evidence that teens may indeed face clinician education barriers when seeking an IUD. One survey found that “only 19% of obstetrician–gynecologists surveyed in a 2010 study stated that they would offer an IUD to an unmarried 17 year old who had never been pregnant.”

With more evidence like the current study on hand, we hope it will become easier for teens to access this long-acting, effective form of contraception.

Related: Revisiting the IUD for Contraception – Pros and Cons for Women looks at the rise in IUD use and the safety record.

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