Study suggests IUD can affect hormones beyond uterus

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IUDs are used by tens of millions of women worldwide for birth control and work by releasing a small amount of hormone into the uterus. File Photo by Sarahmirk/Wikimedia Commons 

A new report being presented next week is expected to show that intrauterine contraceptive devices appear to effect the entire body — but that there’s no reason to be alarmed by their continued use.

“It has been claimed that IUDs have a purely local effect on the uterus,” Dr. Luisa Huck, radiology resident in the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology at RWTH Aachen University in Aachen, Germany, said in a press release. “Our study results suggest that this is not true.”

The study is scheduled to be presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

According to the study, Levonorgestrel-releasing IUDs (LNG-IUDs) are used by tens of millions of women worldwide and work by releasing a small amount of hormone into the uterus. Since the hormone is released directly into the uterus, the amount in the bloodstream is lower than with other hormonal methods.

“In theory, this limited area of release means that any side effects would be confined to the region around the IUD,” the study said.. “However, emerging evidence suggests that LNG-IUDs can be associated with systemic side effects similar to those of systemic hormonal medication.” .

The researchers found that women with an IUD in place often show significantly higher background enhancement on breast MRI examinations.

“By comparing the level of contrast enhancement in the same women with and without the IUD in place, a change in systemic hormone levels due to the IUD could be traced,” Huck said.

Half of the women in the study underwent the first breast MRI exam before IUD placement and the second with the IUD in place. The other half had their first MRI with IUD placement and the second MRI after IUD removal. This enabled the researchers to avoid age-related effects on background parenchymal enhancement that might affect interpretation of the results.

Analysis showed that IUD use led to significant increase of enhancement in 23 of 48 patients, indicating that there are hormonal effects caused by IUD use that occur well beyond the uterus.

She added that is plausible that IUDs can have side effects similar to that of other hormonal treatments.

“Use of an IUD leads to hormonal stimulation of the breast that is detectable by MRI,” Huck said. “The increased enhancement also has implications for the diagnostic accuracy of breast MRI in women using hormonal IUDs.”

Aside from working as an effective method of birth control, a recent study conducted in Australia showed that a hormonal IUD might also be an effective treatment against endometrial cancer.


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