From the Journals

Levonorgestrel IUDs offer safe, effective care for disabled adolescents



Adolescents and young adults with physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities can benefit from the use of levonorgestrel intrauterine devices for menstrual management and contraception, based on data from a retrospective study of 159 patients.

“Desire for menstrual management or suppression is common in young women with special needs, including complex medical conditions and physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities,” and many of these patients require estrogen-free options because of comorbidities, medication interactions, or decreased mobility, wrote Beth I. Schwartz, MD, and colleagues at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Dr. Schwartz currently is of Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia.

In a study published in Pediatrics, the researchers identified 159 nulliparous patients aged 22 years and younger with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities who received levonorgestrel IUDs at a tertiary care children’s hospital between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2014.

A total of 185 levonorgestrel IUDs were placed. The patients ranged in age from 9 to 22 years with a mean age of 16 years; 4% had ever been sexually active.

Overall, the IUD continuation rate was 95% after 1 year and 73% after 5 years. Most of the IUDs (96%) were inserted in the operating room.

Device malposition and expulsion accounted for a 5% rate of complications. Of the five expulsions, four were completely expelled from the uterus, and a fifth was partial and identified on ultrasound. No cases of pelvic inflammatory disease, pregnancy, or uterine perforation were reported, and the amenorrhea rate was approximately 60%.

Unique concerns regarding the use of IUDs in the disabled population include the appropriateness of IUDs as a first strategy for menstrual management or contraception, as well as potential distress related to bleeding and cramping that patients might find hard to articulate, the researchers said. However, the high continuation rate and low reports of side effects in the study suggests that the devices were well tolerated, and the data show that complications were minimal and manageable, they said.

The study findings were limited primarily by the retrospective design, “which involved loss of patients to follow-up, missing data, and reliance on adequate documentation,” Dr. Schwartz and associates noted. However, the study is the largest to date on levonorgestrel IUD use in young people with disabilities, and provides needed data on the safety and benefits of IUDs for menstrual management and contraception in this population, they said. Prospective studies are needed to assess continuation, outcomes, and long-term satisfaction with IUDs.

“However, these data are promising and should be used to allow more accurate counseling of adolescents with special needs and their families,” and it should be considered as an option for them, Dr. Schwartz and colleagues concluded.

“Clinicians should recognize that adolescents with disabilities have a range of decision-making capacities,” Cynthia Robbins, MD, and Mary A. Ott, MD, of Indiana University, Indianapolis, wrote in an accompanying editorial. Adolescents with disabilities may be left out of reproductive health discussions even if they are able, and the decisions are made by parents and caregivers.

For adolescents with mild disability, a shared decision-making approach is appropriate, in which providers and adolescents discuss reproductive health, with parent involvement as needed; “the adolescent is supported by the provider to express their preferences,” the editorialists wrote.

For those with more significant disability, they advised supported decision-making, in which the adolescent identifies a parent, family member, or caregiver as a trusted adult. “This supportive adult helps the adolescent communicate their goals and understand the decision and assists the provider in communication with the adolescent,” they said. For adolescents with a profound disability, the risks of placement and use of IUDs “should be thought of in a similar manner as other procedures that are routinely done to improve quality of life.”

“As clinicians, it is up to us to highlight these adolescents’ abilities to exercise their rights to sexual and reproductive health,” Dr. Robbins and Dr. Ott conclude.

The study was supported by a Bayer Healthcare Investigator-Initiated Research grant for women’s health to Dr. Schwartz and coauthor Lesley L. Breech, MD. The researchers had no other financial conflicts to disclose.

Dr. Ott disclosed providing expert consultation to Bayer, and that her spouse is employed Eli Lilly. Dr. Robbins had no relevant financial conflicts to disclose. They received no external funding for their editorial.

SOURCE: Schwartz BI et al. Pediatrics. 2020 Jul 23. doi: 10.1542/peds.2020-0016. Robbins C and Ott MA. Pediatrics. 2020 Jul 23. doi: 10.1542/peds.2020-006296.

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