Copper Pearls, a new form of hormone free contraceptive effective for up to five years, has launched in South Africa.

The Copper Pearls work along the same principle as other intrauterine devices and prevents pregnancy locally within the uterus. The contraceptive effect comes mainly from the copper.

The Copper Pearls consist of a special shape memory alloy, which has been successfully used in medicine for a long time, e.g. in implants and stents. Several copper pearls are strung on a uterus friendly frame, coated with polymer.

How it works

As soon as the Copper Pearls are placed in the patient’s uterus, it starts releasing small amounts of copper into the uterus to provide continuous birth control for up to five years.

The method of action is similar to standard copper intrauterine devices. The copper ions released probably:

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  • interfere with the process of fertilization in the uterus
  • limit the sperm mobility
  • prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg
  • prevent the egg from attaching (implanting) in the uterus

Is it safe?

The amount of copper released from the copper pearls is minimal and the average quantity of copper ingested with a normal diet is much higher than the quantity inserted to the body through the copper pearls.

Why is this better than other devices?

Since the intrauterine ball (IUB™) is one third to a half of the size of traditional intrauterine devices, it can be inserted almost painlessly, without local anesthesia, in the doctor’s office after the patient has been examined and identified as an ideal candidate.

The Copper Pearls were designed and created by Dr. Ilan Baram, MD in the summer of 2008 when he had a serendipitous idea that ball-shaped IUDs would solve the problem of malposition – a situation where the standard T-shaped IUD shifts and turns inside the uterus and which is difficult to detect on ultrasound.

Dr. Baram, a senior gynecologist who focuses on contraception in his clinics immediately started working on finding a solution to the problem: how to pass a ball-shaped IUD through the cervical canal which is only a few millimeters in diameter.

This ‘magic’ was eventually enabled by a material with unique elastic properties called Nitinol, a metal alloy used extensively in medical implants such as coronary stents which can be ‘programmed’ to retain a certain shape. When OCON was established in early 2011, Nitinol was chosen for the IUB™’s frame core and went on to design the gentlest shape to minimise risks and endometrial irritation.

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How efficient is the IUB?

The efficacy of the IUB™ copper pearls is comparable with oral contraceptives, the pill, when used correctly. However, no birth control method is 100% effective.

What side effects can occur?

After placement of the IUB™ heavier, longer periods and spotting between periods can occur – most of these side effects diminish after two to three months.

After the patient’s uterus acclimates to the IUB™ copper pearls these side effects occur less frequently. Very occasionally the placement can cause a short fainting similar like when giving blood, without any further serious complications.

Does the insertion hurt?

The placement of the IUB™ can be painful when the cervix is very tight. In this case a local anesthetic or the use of medicine that relax the muscles of the cervix are recommended. If the patient is pain sensitive, the doctor can provide local anesthesia or a preventive pain-killing treatment.

Immediately after the insertion, menstruational complaints can occur. However, this offers no grounds for concern – the uterus needs time to adapt to the new situation. The pain usually subsides quickly. Should the pain continue, patients are advised to consult their doctor immediately to clarify the situation.

Does the IUB influence menstruational bleeding?

The first couple of menstruations after insertion can occur stronger than usual, the uterus needs time to adapt to the new situation. This side effect usually subsides and the IUB is expected to have limited influence on your menstruational bleeding after that.

How soon can a patient become pregnant after removal?

Fertility should be restored immediately after removal.

If you are looking for long term, hormone free, reversible pregnancy protection, talk to your healthcare provider to find out if you are a candidate for the Copper Pearls.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.