IUDs Work Better Than Plan B For Emergency Contraception

By Amir Khan on May 9, 2012 4:07 PM EDT

Plan B
A pilot program in 13 New York City schools will allow school nurses to dispense the "morning after" pill and other contraceptives to students (Photo: Planbonestep.com)

Intrauterine devices are more effective than Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, as an emergency contraceptive, according to a new study published in in the journal Human Reproduction on Tuesday.

An IUD is a T-shaped device, typically made out of plastic or copper, that is placed inside a woman's uterus in order to prevent pregnancy, either by blocking sperm from joining with an egg or by stopping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

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IUDs can stay in the uterus for between five and 10 years, depending on the brand, and are an effective means of emergency contraception if inserted within five days of unprotected sex, researchers said.

"Emergency insertion of a copper IUD is extremely effective," James Trussell, study author and professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University told ABC News. "We would hope [the findings] would encourage clinicians to talk with women about emergency insertion of a copper IUD during regular visits for later use, should the need arise."

As a means of emergency contraception, IUDs failed less than one out of every 1000 times, according to the study, which is much more effective than Plan B, which has fails between one and two times out of every hundred.

Despite the device's effectiveness as emergency contraception, very few doctors advise their patients to use them in that capacity, according to the study.

"IUDs are certainly a highly effective form of emergency contraception," Dr. Ranit Mishori, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at Georgetown University, who was not involved in the study, told ABC News. "The study appears to confirm it, [but] I think not many women are aware that it is an effective option."

Researchers cited several reasons as to why IUDs are underused, one being price point. Morning-after pills typical cost less than $70, according to Planned Parenthood, whereas IUDs can cost into the hundreds.

Researchers also cited safety concerns, saying IUDs suffer from an image problem stemming from the Dalkon Shield, an IUD released in the 1970s that caused bacterial infections and sepsis in many users. Users filed over 300,000 lawsuits against the manufacturer.

IUDs are much safer these days, researchers said, and their rate of use is increasing. Between 1995 and 2010 the rate of use among women of child-bearing age increased from 1 percent to 5 percent.

But the devices aren't for everyone, Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, who was not involved in the study, told ABC News.

"Here are the problems: the IUD has to be inserted and most of the time, ordered," he said. "They are way overpriced in this country. You can't just walk in my office and get an $800 IUD. We have to get it authorized and ordered."

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