Clinical Review

Overcoming LARC complications: 7 case challenges

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CHALLENGE 2: IUD strings not visualized

CASE No strings palpated 6 weeks after postpartum IUD placement

A 26-year-old woman (G2P2) presents to your office for a postpartum visit 6 weeks after an uncomplicated cesarean delivery at term. She had requested that a 52-mg levonorgestrel IUD be placed at the time of delivery, and the delivery report describes an uneventful placement. The patient has not been able to feel the IUD strings using her fingers and you do not find them on examination. She does not remember the IUD falling out.

What are the next steps in her management?

Failure to palpate the IUD strings by the user or failure to visualize the strings is a fairly common occurrence. This is especially true when an IUD is placed immediatelypostpartum, as in this patient’s case.

When the strings cannot be palpated, it is important to exclude pregnancy and recommend a form of backup contraception, such as condoms and emergency contraception if appropriate, until evaluation can be completed.

Steps to locate a device. In the office setting, the strings often can be located by inserting a cytobrush into the endocervical canal to extract them. If that maneuver fails to locate them, an ultrasound should be completed to determine if the device is in the uterus. If the ultrasound does not detect the device in the uterus, obtain an anteroposterior (AP) x-ray encompassing the entire abdomen and pelvis. All IUDs used in the United States are radiopaque and will be observed on x-ray if present. If the IUD is identified, operative removal is indicated.

Related article:
How to identify and localize IUDs on ultrasound

Intraperitoneal location. If an IUD is found in this location, it is usually the result of a perforation that occurred at the time of insertion. In general, the device can be removed via laparoscopy. Occasionally, laparotomy is needed if there is significant pelvic infection, possible bowel perforation, or if there is an inability to locate the device at laparoscopy.4 The copper IUD is more inflammatory than the levonorgestrel IUDs.

Abdominal location. No matter the IUD type, operative removal of intra-abdominal IUDs should take place expeditiously after they are discovered.

In the case of expulsion. If the IUD is not seen on x-ray, expulsion is the likely cause. Expulsion tends to be more common among5:

  • parous users
  • those younger than age 20
  • placements that immediately follow a delivery or second-trimester abortion.

Nulliparity and type of device are not associated with increased risk of expulsion.

Read CHALLENGE 3: Difficult IUD removal

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