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What Is Mirena And How Does It Work?
Mirena is a hormonal intrauterine device or IUD. It is a very small T-shaped device that is inserted into your womb by a medical professional to help prevent pregnancy. A hormonal IUD like Mirena usually lasts anywhere from three to five years before it needs replacing.
Although similar in form to the copper IUD, Mirena functions more closely to the hormonal implant. The device releases a hormone called levonorgestrel slowly over time. Levonorgestrel is also found in Plan B and some birth control pills.
Levonorgestrel works to prevent pregnancy by preventing either ovulation (i.e. your ovary won’t release an egg) or fertilisation (i.e. the sperm won’t reach the egg). It also thickens the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from getting through and thins out the uterine lining, making it difficult for even a fertilised egg to implant in the womb.
While the insertion of the IUD is pretty quick and generally does not require anesthesia, it is imperative that you get it done by a nurse or doctor. If it’s not inserted correctly, it can cause pain and discomfort, as well as potentially lessening its efficacy.
IUDs are one of the most effective forms of contraception, partly because it removes human error (which is very common with condoms and oral birth control). Inserted properly, Mirena has a failure rate of 0.2% or less, making it significantly more effective at preventing pregnancy than pretty much any other method.
It takes about a week for Mirena to kick in and protect you from getting pregnant. So if you’re having sex during that seven-day period, make sure you use another form of birth control like condoms.
What Are Mirena’s Side Effects?
All copper IUDs and hormonal IUDs come with a risk of adverse side effects. Some of the most common ones include:
- Pain or discomfort upon insertion
- Cramping, backaches, and other body pain
- Irregular periods
- Heavy bleeding
- Not having a period at all
- Weight gain and/or bloating
- Weight loss
- Increased hair growth
- Headaches, dizziness, and/or nausea
- Mood swings or changes in mood
Some of the side effects (like pain or cramping) usually disappear within the first few days or weeks. Other side effects may continue on for another three to six months, or until your body has adjusted to the hormones. It’s also entirely possible that your body doesn’t adjust to the implant, and that you may need to consider other birth control options.
Does Mirena Cause Weight Gain? Why Or Why Not?
One of the biggest concerns women have about hormonal birth control – and IUDs in particular – is the possible weight gain. Anecdotal evidence demonstrates that for some women, their weight gain coincided with getting a hormonal IUD like Mirena.
While that may be true on a case-to-case basis, and while the Mirena IUD specified weight gain as a possible side effect, there just isn’t enough scientific research to back that claim. The strongest potential link anyone has made between Mirena and weight gain is that progestin (like levonorgestrel) can cause your body to retain more water and make you bloat, thus giving the appearance and feeling of having gained weight.
Then there’s also anecdotal evidence that some people have even lost weight on Mirena. Plus, there are many coincidental reasons someone can gain weight on Mirena, like a change in diet, lifestyle, or even just aging.
Common Myths About Hormonal IUDs
Despite the IUD’s long-term effectiveness and convenience, recent statistics show that less than 2% of women in New Zealand and Australia use them. This could be because of many widespread myths, such as:
Myth: The IUD causes infertility and long-term damage.
Fact: Yes, the chances of you getting pregnant on the IUD are very low. But you can immediately start conceiving after having the IUD removed. Studies have also shown that there’s no increased risk when using an IUD compared to other methods.
Myth: The IUD is a major, years-long commitment.
Fact: While the IUD lasts up to five years in most cases, you can have your IUD removed whenever you want. So if the side effects are too much, or if you want to start having kids, you can ask your doctor to remove it ASAP.
Myth: The IUD is painful.
Fact: Some people experience pain in the first few days, but others find it only minorly uncomfortable. If inserted correctly, the pain should subside very quickly.
Myths: The IUD interferes with sex.
Fact: The device is located in the uterus which is very inaccessible to even the longest penises or fingers! There will be a string, but you can tuck it into the cervix and out of the way. Your doctor can also cut the strings shorter.
Thanks to its long-term benefits and low failure rate, a hormonal IUD like Mirena is one of your best bets for birth control. And while some people do report gaining a little bit of weight on it, you can be reassured that it doesn’t happen in all cases, and its benefits far outweigh the low risk of putting on a few pounds.
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