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Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs)

Condoms and the birth control pill are the most widely used forms of contraception, but not completely reliable. Pills can be forgotten, and condoms can break. However, they are both reasonably accessible, cheap, easy to come by, and using them is a relatively minor decision when compared to the risk of pregnancy.

The pill has been used for a few decades now but the condom, in one form or another, has been used for thousands of years. Despite their widespread use, these are not the only methods to consider when it comes to birth control.

Many people opt for surgical procedures for a more permanent means of birth control, but for those who aren’t prepared to take that one-way path yet, there are other options in the form of Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs). LARCs can provide a more reliable, set and forget form of birth control while leaving you with options for the future.

LARCs are available in few different forms, and have a working life from 3 months to 10 years depending on the type. Some people may find the price of LARCs a barrier to using them, but when the total cost is spread out over the lifetime of the device, many become extremely affordable.  Still, the upfront cost, and the fee for insertion can pose a challenge for many needing an affordable alternative to the pill or condoms.

It should be noted that LARCs cannot protect against Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STIs). This lack of protection against infection may present another barrier to some, plus, it will also depend on lifestyle choices and the number of sexual partners as to whether using a LARC is a suitable alternative.

Your choice in contraception will depend a great deal on your circumstance, whether you are in a long-term relationship with a single partner, what stage you are at in life and your financial situation. It is important to talk about your options; both with your partner (who may like to help with the cost) and your doctor or a specialist in sexual health.

In Australia there are three types of LARC technologies available: implants, intrauterine devices, and injections.

Implants

The implant is a small (about the size of a match), but flexible contraceptive rod that is inserted under the skin.

The rod contains a hormone, etonogestrel, which is designed to mimic the role of the naturally occurring hormone progesterone. It uses a two-fold approach to birth control; it blocks the body from producing an ovum (egg) each month and creates a barrier against sperm by thickening the mucus in the cervix (the entrance to the womb).

The implant has an active lifespan of three years and has been shown to be 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.

You should not use an implant if you:

  • have a history of breast cancer
  • abnormal vaginal bleeding (get checked out by your doctor before getting the implant)
  • are taking certain medications which reduce the effectiveness of the implant

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

IUDs are small plastic devices, where copper wire is wrapped around a plastic stem. There are currently two types available for Australian residents, with one lasting five years, and the other lasting ten.

The IUD is inserted into the womb and works by affecting the sperms’ ability to fertilise the egg. The lining of the womb is also affected, making it less hospitable for pregnancy to occur.

A nylon string attached to the IUD extends out through the cervix, giving women the ability to self-check the device to ensure it is still in place. IUDs can be used by women who have or haven’t had any children, as well as those who are breastfeeding.

If you think you could be pregnant or you are currently experiencing a pelvic infection, have undiagnosed abnormal bleeding from the vagina, or are awaiting treatment for cervical cancer then you should not use an IUD.

Hormone Releasing Intrauterine System (IUS)

The Hormone Releasing Intrauterine System (IUS) is used to prevent pregnancy and as a source of hormone replacement therapy for women after menopause. The IUS is a small T-shaped plastic device fitted inside the uterus by a qualified medical practitioner. A small amount of the progesterone hormone is slowly released into the uterus and can prevent pregnancy for up to 5 years.

The IUS prevents pregnancy by:

  • creating a thickened mucus barrier at the cervix entrance preventing sperm entering the uterus.
  • prevents normal sperm function inside the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
  • making the uterus unsuitable for pregnancy by limiting the growth of the uterus lining. Periods are therefore lighter and shortened in length as a result of the reduced uterus lining.

The IUS is placed into the uterus through the vagina and has 2 fine threads attached to the base for easy removal, when required.

The effectiveness of an IUS for pregnancy prevention is 99.9% therefore making it a very reliable form of contraception. The device can be removed at any time and is 100% reversible.

Injections

Contraceptive injections release a hormone similar to progesterone and work for up to 12 weeks. The injections are also not as effective as other methods, with a 94% – 99% measured success rate.

You may be advised against this type of contraception if  you:

  • could already be pregnant
  • have irregular or unusual vaginal bleeding
  • have heart or liver disease
  • have had an allergic reaction to a past contraceptive injection

Not sure which birth control method is right for you? We know it can be a confusing issue so visit https://gcaus.com.au/contact-gca/ for more information, and book a confidential chat where you will be able to explore all your options with a health professional.

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