By Amanda Drucker
When I type the words “is getting an IUD…” into the Google search bar, the sentence autofills with the words “painful”, “worth it”, “safe”, “dangerous”. The intrauterine device or IUD is a form of contraception used since the 1970’s that has gained particular popularity recently (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020). It is one of the most effective forms of birth control at 99% and can be inserted in the uterus for multiple years (Planned Parenthood, 2021). Despite all the positive attributes of the IUD, the procedure for its insertion can be extremely painful. According to Healthline, up to 70% of people who have not given birth report feeling mild to moderate discomfort during the IUD insertion process (Dermish, 2021). Women’s pain has been dismissed for centuries, and can have detrimental effects. Rather than simply enduring the pain we have been told to endure, women’s health groups and networks should demand better pain management systems for IUD procedures.
During many gynecological procedures, there is no pain management although the pain during these procedures can be quite significant. According to a 2013 study, 17% of women who have not given birth and 11% of women who have, say they experienced substantial pain that required pain management during the insertion process, including medication and other non-pharmaceutical methods (Gemzell-Danielsson, et. al, 2013). Currently, there is no mandatory pain management system to offer patients during IUD procedures. Because the IUD insertion procedure is very quick, this is often used as the case against pain management. Side effects after the IUD is inserted include cramping, dizziness, vomiting, sweating, and even fainting (Kitchener, 2021). Despite all this, patients are usually sent home with 2 Advil; however, not even this minimal concession to pain is a mandatory practice. For centuries, women’s pain has been dismissed as insignificant or over-stated.
Although no pain management is required to be offered to patients getting an IUD, some healthcare professionals have offered a few different methods, though none are consistently used (Dermish, 2021). As IUDs become more popular, especially among younger people who may not have gone through labor, pain management should become a bigger priority for service providers (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020). In order to ensure transparency, educating patients before getting the IUD inserted should be adopted as standard practice. This can take multiple routes; such as educational videos or pamphlets about IUD procedures and what to expect, including adverse effects that can happen. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has videos explaining to patients what to expect when getting an IUD, even what type of IUD is organized by brand. This level of education should be standard practice for healthcare providers as well as patients. All patients should receive the same education on IUD procedures, regardless of where they get the procedure done, as people deserve to understand what type of pain they could be experiencing in medical environments. Women should not have to suffer through procedures that have been unchanged in years, as a result of insufficient advancements in modern gynecology.
People getting IUDs should not have to be in pain in order to get proper birth control, instead, there should be people advocating on their behalf that it does not have to be this way. Governmental organizations as well as non-profits can also leverage their power to ensure this practice of education is actually taking place; for example, departments such as Health and Human Services (HHS) can do periodic check-ins to healthcare facilities. Other organizations such as the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL, which all operate at the national level, can also leverage their political power and legal capabilities to guarantee healthcare providers are educating their patients on what to expect, as well as their pain management options.
To be sure, some may argue that 17% of people who undergo IUD procedures who exhibit more extreme side effects should not sway the majority of people who do not (Kitchener, 2021). Because the procedure is very fast, pain management other than a pain killer is often not used, or can be more painful to administer the treatment, for example injecting lidocaine (Dermish, 2021). Although these are viable arguments, all people getting an IUD insertion should be knowledgeable about the risks of pain. Regardless of setting, standard practice should highlight education, so people can know what to expect during the procedure. The dismissal of women’s pain in the medical field can lead to horrendous, adverse effects that can lead to hospitalizations or even death in the long-run. This phenomenon should be taken seriously and not simply written off. Women’s health and legal organizations have women’s best interests in mind as well as understanding the history of women’s pain being dismissed in the medical field. Having governmental and nongovernmental organizations such as HHS, Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood can ensure best practices are being implemented for people getting IUDs everywhere. By modernizing the way we approach gynecological procedures, and prioritizing education, we can ensure a better and safer future. An IUD is one of the most effective forms of birth control (Planned Parenthood, 2021), let’s make it easier and more comfortable during the process of getting one.
Amanda Drucker is graduating in May 2022 with an MPA in non-profit management and public policy with a specialization in public policy. She is passionate about reproductive justice and amplifying marginalized voices. This is her second published piece.
Dermish, Amna. “Is IUD Insertion Painful? Expert Answers You Need to Know.” Healthline, 29 Sept. 2021, www.healthline.com/health/birth-control/is-iud-painful. Accessed 18 Dec. 2021.
Gemzell-Danielsson, Kristina, et al. Management of Pain Associated with the Insertion of Intrauterine Contraceptives. Publication no. 19, Oxford Journals, 12 May 2013. Human Reproduction Update.
“How Effective Are IUDs?” Planned Parenthood, www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/iud. Accessed 18 Dec. 2021.
“Intrauterine Devices (IUDs): Access for Women in the U.S.” Kaiser Family Foundation, 9 Sept. 2020, www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/fact-sheet/intrauterine-devices-iuds-access-for-women-in-the-u-s/. Accessed 18 Dec. 2021.
Kitchener, Caroline. “Patients are warned that IUDs can be ‘uncomfortable.’ But many say the pain is excruciating.” The Lily, Washington Post, 19 July 2021, www.thelily.com/patients-are-warned-that-iuds-can-be-uncomfortable-but-many-say-the-pain-is-excruciating/. Accessed 18 Dec. 2021.
“LARC Video Series.” ACOG, www.acog.org/programs/long-acting-reversible-contraception-larc/video-series.
“Medical Devices.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov/Medical-Devices. Accessed 18 Dec. 2021.
Planned Parenthood. www.plannedparenthood.org/files/7014/0502/5825/
What_to_Do_Before_Your_IUD_Insertion_Appointment.pdf. Accessed 18 Dec. 2021.