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What Is the Process of IUD Insertion?

IUDs are placed into a woman's uterus to prevent pregnancy.
A copper IUD.
During the IUD insertion, a speculum is used to hold open the patient's vaginal canal.
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  • Written By: Amanda Barnhart
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2014
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An intrauterine device (IUD) is a plastic device shaped like a T that is placed in the uterus to prevent pregnancy for five to ten years. The process of IUD insertion only takes a few minutes and causes few complications or problems for most women. A doctor can place an IUD in a woman's uterus through a tube inserted into the woman's vagina and cervix. The process only takes a few minutes and can be done in a doctor's office or family planning clinic without general anesthesia.

Physicians often advise women to take 600 to 800 mg of ibuprofen about an hour before their IUD insertion appointment to help minimize pain and discomfort during and after the procedure. Some doctors perform certain tests and examinations before placing the IUD, such as pregnancy tests or manual pelvic examinations to feel for tender or sore spots around the ovaries and uterus. Feeling the pelvic area also allows the doctor to locate the location and size of the uterus to help with IUD placement.

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The doctor will then prepare the IUD for placement by removing it from a sterile package and inserting it into a thin tube with a slider mechanism to aid in placement. A speculum is used to open the patient's vaginal canal to hold it open for the duration of the IUD insertion procedure. Some doctors apply a local anesthetic gel to the cervix to reduce pressure and pain during the procedure. The doctor then attaches a small instrument called a tenaculum to the cervix to keep it steady during the remainder of the procedure, and measures the depth of the uterus to determine how far to insert the IUD.

When the IUD is placed, the strings will hang down. The doctor then slides the mechanism on the tube to push the IUD into place so that it can expand into a T shape. Then the tube is carefully removed and the strings at the end of the IUD are left hanging out of the cervix but inside the vagina. The tenaculum and speculum are also removed. After the procedure, the physician will show the patient how to insert her fingers into her vagina to feel for the strings to ensure the IUD has not moved.

Some women experience mild pain or discomfort during the procedure, but most do not have severe problems. A few patients experience dizziness, nausea, or cramping during or after the procedure. These side effects may continue for the first few weeks after IUD insertion, though they should subside with time. Patients should never try to remove IUDs themselves. A doctor can remove the device if the patient no longer wants to use birth control, experiences problems with the IUD, or if the IUD's protection period is over.

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