Intrauterine Contraceptive Device

The intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD) is an effective method of contraception which is also known as 'the coil'. It sits inside the womb (uterus) and, once fitted, can stay in your womb for up to ten years. The device is called a coil because in the 1960s some devices were coil-shaped.

What is an intrauterine contraceptive device?

An intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD) is a small device made from plastic and copper which sits inside the womb (uterus). It is also known as 'the coil'. Two threads are attached to the IUCD and pass out through the neck of the womb (cervix) to lie in the vagina. These allow the IUCD to be removed easily. Most devices are T-shaped (the two arms of the T fold flat for insertion) and are about as long as a matchstick. The inside of the womb itself is only a little longer than a matchstick, so the device sits neatly inside.

Other abbreviations sometimes used for the device include IUC, 

How does it work?

The IUCD does not prevent you from producing an egg (ovulating) and does not contain any hormones. Instead it works by making the womb lining 'hostile' to egg and sperm. Read more about how it works.

How effective is it?

Modern IUCDs are very effective. Only 1-2 of every 100 women using the IUCD as contraception will become pregnant over five years of use.

By comparison to this, more than 80 of every 100 sexually active women who do not use contraception become pregnant within one year.

How long does it last?

The length of time the IUCD lasts for varies with the type of IUCD that is put in, but modern '380 banded' devices last 10 years (more if you are 40 years old or more when it is put in).

What are the pros and cons of having one?

As with any other contraceptive, there are advantages and disadvantages to choosing the IUCD.

The main advantages are that the method is very effective, that once it's inserted you don't take other contraceptive precautions for years and that it contains no hormones so has no hormonal side-effects like acne, mood changes or weight gain.

The main disadvantages are the need for insertion (which can be uncomfortable) and removal (which is usually quick and easy), and the tendency of periods to become heavier and more painful with the IUCD in place.

Find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of the IUCD.

How is it inserted and removed?

An IUCD can be placed into the womb by a trained doctor or nurse. This procedure can be uncomfortable, and some women find it painful.

Removal is very simple but needs to be done by a trained doctor or nurse.

Learn more about how this is done.

Is it a good choice for me?

The IUCD is a good choice for those who:

  • Want very reliable, long-term contraception.
  • Don't mind about the insertion and removal.
  • Don't want to take daily tablets.
  • Will use condoms to protect against sexually transmitted infections.
  • Are prepared for their periods to become heavier.

Discover more about the pros and cons of the IUCD.

Are there any side-effects?

Read about the side-effects of the IUCD.

Do I need regular check-ups?

You should be checked 4-6 weeks after insertion. After this, if there are no problems you do not need routine visits.

You should contact your doctor or nurse if you have any concerns such as pain, discharge, irregular bleeding or missed periods.

Can anything make it less effective?

The IUCD is a very effective contraceptive which is not affected by antibiotics or other medicines, or by you being unwell or developing sickness (vomiting) or diarrhoea. Tampons do not interfere with an IUCD.

Can the device come out spontaneously?

The risk of expulsion with an IUCD is around 1 in 20. It is most common in the first year of use, particularly within three months of insertion. You are very likely NOT to notice expulsion and are advised to check for the threads at intervals, to be sure that the IUCD is still in place. Most women check just after their period, as if the IUCD is going to be expelled, this is most likely to happen during a period.

Can I exercise with the device in place?

The IUCD's initial side-effects can include cramps and back pain after insertion. Usually, these symptoms last only a few hours, so you may need to wait until the next day to exercise as usual. Some women, however, experience bleeding, cramping and pain for a couple of weeks, and may wish to wait longer. However, there is no medical reason to avoid exercise after insertion of an IUCD.

Some gyms advise that women with an IUCD should not use vibrating gym plates because of theoretical concerns about an increased risk of expulsion caused by the vibrations. There is no evidence that this can occur but women are advised to avoid such activity in the first few weeks following insertion when the expulsion rate is highest.

Who can't have one?

Most women can have an IUCD if they want one, even if they have never had a baby. There are a few exceptions: you can read more about these.

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Dr Mary Lowth
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Jacqueline Payne
Document ID:
4285 (v42)
Last Checked:
08 July 2017
Next Review:
07 July 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.