The copper coil or 'IUD' is a small, T-shaped device made of plastic and copper that is inserted into your womb by a doctor or nurse. It is a very popular non-hormonal method as it's very effective and lasts over 5 years. Our data shows that it's got the second highest overall satisfaction rating of all methods reviewed at The Lowdown, after the hormonal coil (IUS).
What is in the Copper coil (IUD)?
Most copper coils are made of a T-shaped frame of polyethylene (plastic) and barium sulphate. Copper wire is wound around the vertical arm.
There is no scientific research evidence that links acne with the copper IUD, but some Lowdown review data shows people reporting acne whilst using the copper IUD. As the copper IUD does not contain hormones, skin changes may be due to hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle or other factors. Combined methods of contraception containing oestrogen can help acne. Women who switch from the combined pill to the copper IUD may therefore notice there acne worsens.
Is spotting on the copper coil normal?
Spotting is also known as breakthrough bleeding and typically occurs in the first few months after you've got your copper coil, but often improves. Your periods may also be be heavier, longer or more painful. If you had the copper IUD fitted more than 3 months ago and your spotting is continuing, or you are experiencing new or irregular bleeding, or bleeding after sex then contact your doctor or nurse for advice. You should check you can feel your coil threads (more info how to check your threads here) and consider doing a pregnancy test and an STI test. If you are experiencing severe pain or abdominal cramping, then always get it checked out.
Can the copper IUD cause back pain?
Yes. Lower abdominal or back pain is listed as a potential side effect in the patient information leaflet of many brands of copper IUD and therefore is a known side effect that has come up in clinical trials. 'Back pain' is also commonly reported by women who have reviewed the copper IUD at The Lowdown. We expect this is related to the womb cramping and increased menstrual bleeding that many women experience whilst using the copper IUD.
Does the copper coil make you gain weight?
There is no evidence the copper coil can affect weight, and so any weight gain you experience is most likely to be due to lifestyle or other factors. Learn more about contraception and weight changes.
Can the copper coil fall out?
There is a very small risk that the copper coil can fall out of the womb or move. This is most common in the first few weeks after getting it fitted, or during a period. You may not know this has happened so it is important to check your coil threads regularly. If you cannot feel the threads or are worried your coil has fallen out or moved, contact your doctor or nurse and use condoms or avoid sex until then. Read our blog about how to check your coil threads to learn why checking your threads is important!
How the Copper coil (IUD) works:
The copper coil works by releasing copper into your womb. This prevents pregnancy by affecting sperm motility, preventing egg fertilisation and possibly preventing implantation. It is inserted into your womb by a healthcare professional. Find out more about coil fittings.
How to use the Copper coil (IUD):
To start using a copper coil, you need to go to a GP surgery or sexual health clinic where some staff are trained to fit them. Once the copper coil is fitted, it will protect you against pregnancy straight away. The only requirement is that you check you can feel your threads which hang down through the neck of the womb in the top of the vagina. You should do this regularly, every few weeks, to make sure that your coil is in place. Read our blog about how to check your coil threads. Once it's been fitted, the copper coil can last 5-10 years depending on the brand, at which point it will need to be replaced to maintain its contraceptive effect. Your IUD can be removed at any time by a trained doctor or nurse. It’s normally simpler than having it fitted – they will gently pull on the threads and the T shape folds up and it can be pulled out of the womb. For everything you need to know about the copper IUD check out our complete guide here.
How safe is the Copper coil (IUD):
On the whole, the copper IUD is very safe. However, there’s a small risk that on insertion the coil may go through the wall of the womb and ‘perforate’ it. If this happens, then you may need surgery to remove it but this is rare. Following the coil insertion, there is also a slight risk of infection which may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease. If you have unusual or smelly discharge, abdominal or pelvic pain, a high temperature or chills, you should contact your doctor. In the rare circumstance you become pregnant whilst using the coil there’s a small increased risk of ectopic pregnancy – when the egg implants outside the womb, normally the fallopian tubes. However, the overall risk of ectopic pregnancy is less in women using a coil than in women using no contraception at all. It's important to remember that the copper coil does not protect you from STIs.