Health

IUDs, if you please: New study confirms their effectiveness (again)

May 29, 2012, 10:01 a.m.

The pill is the most popular form of birth control in the U.S., but the title of "most effective" goes to IUDs, says a new study. (Credit: Sarah C./Flickr Creative Commons)


Women who use birth control pills, patches or vaginal rings are 20 times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than women who use intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants.

In yet another study pointing to the effectiveness of IUDs and implants, researchers pointed out that the country's most popular birth control method for women – the pill – is not at all the most effective.

That's because the pill relies on "perfect use," meaning its effectiveness hinges on women remembering to take a pill every day around the same time and having easy access to refills. IUDs and implants, on the other hand, are implemented by medical professionals and can almost be forgotten once inserted.

Researchers found that pills, patches and rings were particularly unreliable among women under 21, who saw an unplanned pregnancy risk that was nearly twice as high as the risk among older women. Those findings suggest that unplanned pregnancy prevalence can be reduced if adolescents look to long-term contraception methods like IUDs and implants, which can last up to 10 years, depending on the type.

"This study is the best evidence we have that long-acting reversible methods are far superior to the birth control pill, patch and ring," said Jeffrey Peipert, the study's senior author, in a statement. "IUDs and implants are more effective because women can forget about them after clinicians put the devices in place."

But, said the study's lead author, Brooke Winner, only 5.5. percent of U.S. women who use contraception choose the IUD. It's not the failure rate (one percent) or the risk (it's a safe method) – it's the cost. IUDs can cost up to $500 up-front, which, while competitive with the cost of pills or condoms over a long period of time, still presents an unworkable burden to many women since it's a large one-time charge.

The study looked at more than 7,500 women between the ages of 14 and 45 who had a high risk of unintended pregnancy: They were sexually active, or planned to be sexually active within the next six months; and they were not using contraception or wanted to switch methods. None of them wanted to become pregnant over the next year.

Women were able to choose among various methods of birth control, all free of charge: IUDs, implants, pills, patches, rings and contraceptive injection. They were advised about the effectiveness and effect of each, and were allowed to switch between methods as often as they wanted. Researchers kept track of their pregnancy status via phone interviews and follow-up urine tests.

By the numbers: 334 women overall became pregnant; of those, 156 were due to contraceptive failure. Of those 156, 133 were using pills, patches or rings, while only 21 were using IUDs and implants. (That's a failure rate of less than one percent for the IUDs.)

The women of the study recognized the IUD's effectiveness. "This study also is important because it showed that when IUDs and implants are provided at no cost, about 75 percent of women chose these methods for birth control," said Winner in the statement.

In 2009, nearly 74 births out of every 1,000 on the southside were to a teenage girl. And while teens today are having less sex today than teens were 10 years ago, the problem of a lack of access to birth control in South L.A. still stands.

Onyenma Obiekea, a program coordinator at Black Women for Wellness, told OnCentral that cost isn't the only reason for that.

"Not only do women face barriers to healthcare in the form of quality and expenses," she said in an email, "transportation and distance become additional factors that contribute to the reproductive health inequalities of South Los Angeles."

Photo by Sarah C. via Flickr Creative Commons.

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