Clinical Review

How to place an IUD with minimal patient discomfort

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Managing your patient’s pain during IUD placement may make it a more comfortable and satisfying experience for both of you



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CASE Nulliparous young woman desires contraception

An 18-year-old nulliparous patient presents to your office inquiring about contraception before she leaves for college. She not only wants to prevent pregnancy but she also would like a method that can help with her dysmenorrhea. After receiving nondirective counseling about all of the methods available, she selects a levonorgestrel intrauterine device (LNG-IUD). However, she discloses that she is very nervous about placement. She has heard from friends that it can be painful to get an IUD. What are these patient’s risk factors for painful placement? How would you mitigate her experience of pain during the insertion process?

IUDs are highly effective and safe methods of preventing unwanted pregnancy. IUDs have become increasingly more common; they were the method of choice for 14% of contraception users in 2016, a rise from 12% in 2014.1 The Contraceptive CHOICE project demonstrated that IUDs were most likely to be chosen as a reversible method of contraception when unbiased counseling is provided and barriers such as cost are removed. Additionally, rates of continuation were found to be high, thus reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies.2 However, pain during IUD insertion as well as the fear and anxiety surrounding the procedure are some of the major limitations to IUD uptake and use. Specifically, fear of pain during IUD insertion is a substantial barrier; this fear is thought to also exacerbate the experience of pain during the insertion process.3

This article aims to identify risk factors for painful IUD placement and to review both nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic methods that may decrease discomfort and anxiety during IUD insertion.

What factors contribute to the experience of pain with IUD placement?

While some women do not report experiencing pain during IUD insertion, approximately 17% describe the pain as severe.4 The perception of pain during IUD placement is multifactorial; physiologic, psychological, emotional, cultural, and circumstantial factors all can play a role (TABLE 1). The biologic perception of pain results from the manipulation of the cervix and uterus; noxious stimuli activate both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic system at T10-L2 mediates the fundus, the ovarian plexus at the cornua, and the uterosacral ligaments, while the parasympathetic fibers from S2-S4 enter the cervix at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock and innervate the upper vagina, cervix, and lower uterine segment.4,5 Nulliparity, history of cesarean delivery, increased size of the IUD inserter, length of the uterine cavity, breastfeeding status, relation to timing of menstruation, and length of time since last vaginal delivery all may be triggers for pain. Other sociocultural influences on a patient’s experience of pain include young age (adolescence), Black race, and history of sexual trauma, as well as existing anxiety and beliefs about expected pain.3,5,6-8

It also is important to consider all aspects of the procedure that could be painful. Steps during IUD insertion that have been found to invoke average to severe pain include use of tenaculum on the cervix, uterine stabilization, uterine sounding, placement of the insertion tube, and deployment of the actual IUD.4-7

A secondary analysis of the Contraceptive CHOICE project confirmed that women with higher levels of anticipated pain were more likely to experience increased discomfort during placement.3 Providers tend to underestimate the anxiety and pain experienced by their patients undergoing IUD insertion. In a study about anticipated pain during IUD insertion, clinicians were asked if patients were “pleasant and appropriately engaging” or “anxious.” Only 10% of those patients were noted to be anxious by their provider; however, patients with a positive screen on the PHQ-4 depression and anxiety screen did anticipate more pain than those who did not.6 In another study, patients estimated their pain scores at 30 mm higher than their providers on a visual analog scale.7 Given these discrepancies, it is imperative to address anxiety and pain anticipation, risk factors for pain, and offerings for pain management during IUD placement to ensure a more holistic experience.

Continue to: What are nonpharmacologic interventions that can reduce anxiety and pain?...


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