Patient speaking with gynecologist

What to Know About Long-Term Birth Control

Condoms are a great go-to to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections and guard against pregnancy — if you use them perfectly every single time you have sex. But if starting a family isn’t one of your current goals, there are several different types of birth control that will last longer than a lovemaking session.

Tried and True: The IUD

As the name suggests, the Intrauterine Device (or IUD) is a small device implanted in your uterus. There, the T-shaped piece of plastic alters the way that sperm and eggs move through your body for as long as it remains in place, blocking a pregnancy from happening.

Originally conceived in 1909, the IUD was a controversial development, as birth control was considered a taboo topic. It gained public popularity during the 1960s and 70s, and today over a hundred million women rely on its effectiveness.

Now there are two types of IUDs: hormonal and non-hormonal. Kyleena, Skyla, Mirena, and Liletta are hormonal IUDs, all of which work by releasing the hormone levonorgestrel. Copper — or Paragard — IUDs are wrapped with a copper wire that creates an environment that is toxic to sperm, rendering them ineffective. Though both types work similarly, copper IUDs have a longer lifetime than their hormonal counterparts, lasting 10-12 years rather than three to seven.

The process of getting an IUD — and removing it when the time comes — can be more painful than other options, but is very similar to a Pap smear or cervical biopsy. There are few risks, and side effects after the procedure are usually limited to mild spotting and cramping.

Longer-term side effects from hormonal IUDs can include headaches, nausea, breast tenderness, mood changes, and potential formation of ovarian cysts. Copper IUDs may cause heavier bleeding and cramping pain during your period. However, many patients with IUDs find these symptoms improve over time.

A Modern Advance: Arm Implants

Approved by the FDA in 1990, the progestin implant is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy for three years. A thin plastic rod is inserted into your arm with a needle, and once in place it then steadily releases the hormone progestin into your body. This keeps eggs from leaving your ovaries, and also inhibits sperm from reaching the egg in the first place.

Though many patients are unaware of this method, the progestin implant allows for a good deal of freedom and is highly effective. The few drawbacks to take into account are that the procedure can be more costly, and the implants can increase irregular bleeding.

More Surgical Solutions

If the idea of implanting anything in your body makes you uncomfortable, but you want long-term protection, there are surgical options available. Tubal ligation (“getting your tubes tied”) permanently closes fallopian tubes and prevents eggs from entering the uterus. A vasectomy is the male version: a surgical procedure that incises the small tubes within the scrotum, so that sperm can’t leave the body.

Your choice of birth control can help prevent ovarian cancer later in life!  Tubal ligation can be done by removing the entire tube, and this reduces ovarian cancer later in life for all women including high-risk women who have a family history of ovarian and breast cancers or who have a gene which puts them at risk for these cancers.  For some high-risk women, removal of both the ovaries and tubes is recommended, so it you have a high-risk gene, your care must be individualized.

Before considering surgical options be certain you truly don’t want to become a parent. Reversing either of these procedures is costly and, in many cases, doesn’t actually work.

In addition to the above methods, the birth control pill, patch, and vaginal ring remain alternate options. There are pros and cons for each individual, so talk to a reproductive specialist at Covington Women’s Health Specialists to find the right fit for your lifestyle.

Oral contraceptives reduce the risk ovarian cancer all women including women who have a gene which puts them at risk for these cancers.  The pill can also reduce a woman’s risk of uterine cancer as well as having other non-contraceptive benefits.  If you are considering using oral contraceptives, please have an examination by a physician.  The popularity of on-line birth control availability omits an important step in safeguarding your health.  The providers at Covington Women’s Health Specialists provide comprehensive Gynecologic care and will be able to answer all your questions.

We provide care for each stage of your gynecological health, from puberty to menopause and everything in between. Call for an appointment at (770) 385-8954, or request one online.