Last week, a federal judge ruled that girls under age 17 should have access to Plan B without a prescription. Now, women’s health advocates have another reason to rejoice: Intrauterine devices (IUDs), the t-shaped contraceptive implants meant to be used for either five or 12 years, are just as safe for teens as they are for adults, according to a study published yestreday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
The total one-time cost of IUD insertion is about $500-800, making it the least expensive method of long-term, reversible birth control. Despite the effectiveness of IUDs, many doctors hesitate to prescribe them to teenagers because of lingering concerns about complications like pelvic inflammatory disease. The current study shows that those fears are unwarranted and that IUDs “should be among the options to address teen pregnancy rates,” said lead author Abbey Berenson, director of women’s health research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in a press release.
In the 1970s, a popular IUD called the Dalkan Shield killed 17 women and injured thousands more before it was pulled from the market. Birth control devices have improved since the 1970s, and the two most popular IUDs in the U.S., ParaGard and Mirena, are considered safe for adults, but there is little research examining their use in teen girls, and results are often inconclusive. While some studies have suggested that adolescents have the same IUD continuation rates as adults, a 2012 study found that almost half of the young women surveyed discontinued IUD use within a year, indicating potential side effects. The sample size in the 2012 study was too small to draw definitive conclusions, however. Berenson’s research is the first attempt to assess their comparative safety of IUDs across thousands of women in a nationwide sample.
The researchers examined a database of insurance claims made between 2002 and 2010, and compared the frequency of IUD complications and discontinuation among women aged 15-19, 20-24, and 25-44. Problems after IUD insertion included genital pain, inflammation, infection, uterine perforation, and infrequent, excessive, irregular or absent menstruation. They found that serious complications related to IUDs were rare in all women, regardless of age.
Compared to older women, teenagers were more likely to experience missing periods in the first year after IUD insertion, but many considered that an asset rather than cause for concern. The most severe complication, pelvic inflammatory disease, occurred in less than one percent of women, and was not related to age or IUD type.
One of the advantages of IUDs is that, unlike birth control pills, you don’t have to remember to take them at the same time each day. Their ease of use make IUDs an ideal contraceptive method for teens, something sorely needed considering the staggering rate of teen pregnancy in this country — the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 750,000 teen girls become pregnant every year. Together with the recent case granting teens access to Plan B, the new study is an important step toward expanding reproductive options for young women