If you’ve had an IUD for a few years, it might not be something you think about regularly. Which is one of the perks of this long-acting method of birth control. But even though you can “set it and forget it,” eventually it’ll need to be removed. And you should be ready for when that time comes.
So we spoke with Dr. Kristen Venuti, board-certified OB-GYN at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, to break down how long each brand and type of IUD lasts. And what you need to know about the removal process.
Remind me. When do I need to get my IUD removed?
According to FDA guidelines, IUDs can last anywhere from three to 10 years depending on the type or brand you have. Here’s how long each type of IUD lasts before you need to have it removed:
Skyla: Three years
Kyleena: Five years
Liletta: Six years
Mirena: Eight years
Non-hormonal (also known as copper) IUD
Paragard: 10 years
Do I have to keep my IUD for that entire time?
The short answer: no. You can get it removed whenever you’re ready. Think: if you want to get pregnant or if you’re experiencing side effects of IUDs, like heavy periods or painful cramps. Read: A 2017 study found that up to about 15% of people with IUDs experience heavy menstrual bleeding. And a clinical trial for Mirena found that about 22% of people experienced abdominal or pelvic pain. So, if for some reason “you don't like it, any amount of time is fine” before taking it out, said Dr. Venuti.
What happens if I leave my IUD in for too long?
It’ll become less effective at preventing pregnancy. But probably won’t cause any other issues beyond that. Still, “if it's not effective, we should take it out,” said Dr. Venuti.
How does IUD removal work?
An IUD removal is typically faster than an insertion, Dr. Venuti said. “We truly just place the speculum in and then grab the strings and pull it out,” said Dr. Venuti. “It's really not fancy.”
But, if for some reason your doc can’t locate the IUD strings, they may use a brush or an ultrasound to locate it. If they still can’t find the strings, then they may try searching for the IUD during a hysteroscopy. Which involves inserting a light into the uterus. “That's also something that we can do under sedation,” said Dr. Venuti.
Does IUD removal hurt?
Good news: You’re less likely to feel discomfort getting your IUD removed than getting it inserted, according to Dr. Venuti.“ Some people don't feel it at all. I have people cough usually, because I think that distracts them, and then I pull it out,” she said.
Some people might feel a cramp when it comes out. And occasionally, the IUD strings can curl up into the cervix. “If that's the case, sometimes we have to dig around for them, and that can be a little bit uncomfortable," Dr. Venuti said.
What happens after the IUD is removed?
It depends on your own personal plan. You can get a new one put in at the same appointment if you want to continue with a long-acting birth control method. Or switch to an alternative form of birth control. And if you see pregnancy in your future, then you can start trying right away.
What are some tips for remembering when to get my IUD removed?
Remembering something you have to do in a few hours is hard enough, let alone three to 10 years. Some tips for staying on top of it: Put the removal date in your calendar as soon as you get one, keep your doctor-provided IUD card in a safe place, or use a birth control tracking app to remind you when it’s time to make that appointment.
IUDs are one of the most effective forms of birth control. And they last a long time. But you’ll need to get it removed eventually. Fortunately, that process will likely be much quicker — and less painful — than when you got it inserted. Phew.