Intrauterine device (copper coil)

What is an intrauterine device (IUD)

It’s a small, flexible device made of copper and plastic that’s inserted into the womb (uterus). It can be used as both emergency contraception and as a form of long-acting reversible contraception.

How does the copper coil work?

The IUD prevents fertilisation of an egg, and stops a fertilised egg implanting in the lining of the womb.

When to use the copper coil?

The copper coil can be used as both emergency and regular contraception. It can be used by people who’ve never given birth.

Emergency IUD

You can use the IUD as emergency contraception. To be effective it must be fitted either within 5 days of unprotected sex or up to 5 days after your expected date of ovulation (when you release an egg)

Long-acting reversible contraception

IUDs can also be used as long-acting reversible contraception. This means once it is fitted you are unlikely to become pregnant – less than 1 in 100 IUD users will become pregnant in a year 1. Your fertility returns to normal when it’s taken out.

How long does copper coil last?

It can provide protection from pregnancy for either 5 or 10 years depending on the type of copper coil you get. You can have it taken it out before that time if you want to. This can only be done by a healthcare professional, so you’ll need to make an appointment with your doctor or local sexual health clinic.

Things to consider when getting the copper coil

  • Your appointment should take between 20-30 minutes in total. The insertion of the IUD usually takes around 5-10 minutes.
  • Getting the copper coil inserted can be a little uncomfortable or painful. You may be offered a local anaesthetic.
  • You may feel a little sore or tender or have light bleeding after it’s been put in. Painkillers can help with the soreness and these symptoms do settle.
  • Your periods may change - they could become heavier, more painful or last longer.
  • The coil doesn’t prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections so you may still want to use condoms.
  • It doesn’t contain hormones, so can be a good option for people who can’t use hormonal contraceptives.
  • On rare occasions (5%) the copper coil can become displaced and gets pushed out of your womb (expulsion). When you get your IUD fitted your healthcare practitioner will tell you how to check that it’s still in place.
  • There’s a small risk you could get an infection after it’s been fitted. It’s advisable to test for STIs before, or at the time of, your coil fitting.
  • There is a 1 in 500 risk of the device perforating (making a hole in) the womb lining.

If the device fails and you become pregnant, the pregnancy may more likely be an ectopic pregnancy.

Where can I go to get the copper coil fitted?

You can get the copper coil (IUD) free at NHS sexual health clinics, contraception clinics and some young people’s services. Some GP surgeries may offer the IUD but not all surgeries do.

Other emergency contraception options

If the emergency IUD is not right for you, emergency contraceptive pills could be an option. You can get a consultation at some GPs and pharmacies, NHS sexual health clinics or at SHL.UK, if you live in an eligible borough.

Other contraception options

There are other forms of long-acting reversible contraception available including the intrauterine system (IUS), the injection and the implant. After starting these methods you’re protected from pregnancy for months (injection) to years (implant/IUS).

If you’d prefer something a bit more flexible, that gives you the ability to manage your periods, you could choose from contraceptive pills, the contraceptive patch or the ring (NuvaRing). You can read more about these on our contraception information pages

Reviewed by our clinical team: December 2020 (next review date: April 2022)

1. Source: Sexwise, IUD (Intrauterine device) - Contraception - Sexwise