For decades, condoms, pills, patches and other short-acting contraception have been the birth control of choice for sexually active teens. But recently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued new guidelines approving other — possibly more effective — options.
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For the first time, ACOG stated that implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs) are safe for teens and should be offered alongside other first-line contraceptives.
How it works
An IUD is a small, flexible birth-control device that a healthcare provider can quickly and easily insert into a patient’s uterus. An implant is a matchstick-sized rod, placed under the skin, that releases a birth-control hormone. Both devices are more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. And healthcare providers can easily remove them without any lasting effects.
Implants can stay in place for about three years. IUDs can stay up to 12 years but ideally get replaced at 5-10 years. And neither requires any action by the user — unlike condoms, birth control pills and other forms of contraception, which can fail when used incorrectly or inconsistently. Use of one of these long acting reversible contraceptives (called LARCs by health care providers) still necessitates condom use for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. LARCs just address pregnancy concerns.
“IUDs and implants are twice as effective as shorter-acting contraceptive methods at reducing teen pregnancy,” says Ellen Rome, MD, head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. “They could make a significant impact in preventing the 750,000 teen pregnancies occurring annually in the United States.”
And complications are rare, even in adolescents, notes Dr. Rome.
“Some people may harbor old fears that today’s IUDs are like the 1980s’ Dalkon shield, which was linked to injury and illness,” says Dr. Rome. “But those complications are not seen with modern IUDs.”
In past decades, some also believed that IUDs increased the risk of infection of the uterus lining, fallopian tubes or ovaries. But, according to ACOG’s recent statement, there is no increased risk. IUDs and implants are safe for anyone, including teens.
“We need to educate adolescents, families and care providers about the safety of IUDs and implants so we ensure they’re making the best decisions about using contraception,” says Dr. Rome. “Conversations between teens and their parents, doctors, schools and the community are important.”