ParaGard (Copper IUD) is a long-term, reversible and hormone-free method of birth control that’s more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. However, a growing number of reports suggest ParaGard side effects may include device migration and breakage, infections, and even ectopic pregnancies.
ParaGard is an intrauterine device (IUD) that consists of copper wires coiled around a T-shaped plastic frame. Once inserted into the uterus, ParaGard triggers an inflammatory reaction that’s toxic to both sperm and egg, thus preventing pregnancy. However, prior theories that the copper IUD damages fertilized embryos or prevents implantation are not supported by current evidence
ParaGard begins working as soon as the IUD is placed in the uterus and does not require a woman to use a back-up method of birth control. As a result, the copper IUD can be used as an emergency contraceptive and is considered an alternative to Plan B. However, unlike Plan B emergency birth control pills, the effectiveness of ParaGard is not dependent on a woman’s weight.
ParaGard is marketed by Teva Pharmaceuticals and was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1984. Sales of the copper IUD began in 1988.
ParaGard is just one of several IUDs approved for use in the United States. But unlike other IUDs currently on the market — Mirena, Skyla, Liletta and Kyleena — ParaGard does not emit hormones to prevent pregnancy.
While the copper IUD can remain in a woman’s body for up to 10 years, Mirena and Kyleena must be removed after five years. Skyla and Liletta can only remain in place for three years.
IUDs have been available in the United States for decades. However, a safety controversy involving the Dalkon Shield resulted in the removal of all but one from the market in the 1980s.
The use of IUDs in the United States has been increasing steadily since the early 2000s. ParaGard and other IUD products are generally more popular with younger women who may not be familiar with the safety controversy that erupted decades ago over the Dalkon Shield.
Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)21 and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommend IUDs for all women. Because the Affordable Care Act requires most private insurance plans to cover the copper IUD and at least one hormonal IUD at no cost to policy holders, Obamacare has also contributed to their increasing popularity among young women.
The ParaGard Copper IUD should not be used by women who:
The most common side effects associated with ParaGard include:
ParaGard can also be expelled from the uterus, often without the woman even realizing this has occurred. Those most at risk for ParaGard expulsion include women who:
Several women have filed ParaGard lawsuits alleging the copper IUD was defectively designed and can cause potentially serious complications, including:
In 2015, a study published in the Open Journal of Clinical & Medical Case Reports followed a gynecological practice in Chicago for a period of 3 years. Seven patients experienced ParaGard breakage during that time, and all underwent hysteroscopic removal of the IUD. However, doctors were ultimately unable to remove the IUD’s arm from one of those women.
While Paragard breakage remains rare, the authors of the study suggested this complication is likely underreported.
Reports indicate that some women have also suffered uterine perforations during or shortly after ParaGard insertion. Complications associated with IUD perforation include infection, scarring, and damage to other nearby organs. Uterine perforations generally result in the need for corrective surgery.
While less than 1% of women with ParaGard will become pregnant while using the device, a pregnancy that occurs with the copper IUD in place is more likely to be ectopic. An ectopic pregnancy occurs outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube, and is always a medical emergency. If not addressed immediately, an ectopic pregnancy will cause dangerous internal bleeding, scarring, infertility, and even death.
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