Implants and Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)
Two very good questions: is Norplant still available, and what about IUDs?
What is an implant?
An implant is one of the six types of hormonal methods of birth control. Implants come in the form of one/several small plastic rods, or a capsule which are inserted under the skin (of the arm, usually).
Each rod has a small amount of only one hormone, a progestin.
The number of rods, and the amount and type of progestin depend on which brand of implant you use. The rods are inserted and removed by medical personnel. Used since 1983, implants are widely available worldwide, except in the United States. Unfortunately, in 2002 Norplant, the only implant available in the U.S., was withdrawn from the market. (Yet, another entire class of birth control methods unavailable to American women. These would be the same women that most of these methods are tested on to begin with, a "minor" detail of course. But I digress.)
The five implant brands are:
1. Norplant: this is the original 6-rod implant; it can be left in place for up to five years
2. Jadelle (Norplant II): this is a 2-rod implant; it can be left in place for up to five years
3. Implanon: this is a single-rod implant; it can be left in placed for up to three years
4. Nestorone: one type consists of a single rod that lasts up to two years, while another type is a small capsule that lasts for six months. The six-month system is available in Brazil under the brand name Elcometrine. It is used to treat endometriosis.
5. Uniplant: this is a single-rod, one year implant (not available commercially).
In general, if you've been using Norplant and you'd like to continue using an implant, the best alternative is one of the newer brands, like Implanon or Jadelle. Of course, just because implants aren't available here, doesn't mean you have to go without. You have two options. If you're planning to travel outside the country, for example to Europe (or anywhere else for that matter), you can have the implant inserted there. Or, you can ask your Ob/Gyn to order the implant directly from the manufacturer. Just make sure he/she is familiar with the method, and is willing to accommodate your needs (there's quite a bit of paperwork involved).
Moving on to intrauterine devices (IUDs), what is an IUD? It is a small device that is inserted inside the uterus, and it's classified as a separate class of birth control. However, there is some crossover: hormone-releasing IUDs can be grouped together with the hormonal methods of birth control. Many types and brands of IUDs are available. Er, that is if you happen to live outside the U.S. In the States, only two brands are available: ParaGard and Mirena. Let's review the main groups of IUDs, so you may better understand your options.
IUDs are non-medicated or medicated (copper- and hormone-releasing), and either framed or frameless.
The non-medicated (or inert) IUDs have an inert plastic frame. Most of the older brands are inert: Graefenberg, Ota rings (these were used in the 1920s), Lippes Loop, Dalkon Shield, Saf-T-Coil, Spring coil, Margulies coil, Majzlin spring, Szontagh, Dana-Super, etc. As a rule, inert IUDs can be left in place for decades.
The framed copper-releasing IUD consists of an inert plastic frame (usually in the shape of a "T", "Y", or a "7") to which copper wire is added. Some brands also have silver wire (the ones with "Ag" in their name). Many types of copper-releasing IUDs are available (by 1974 there were over 20 types available; many more have been developed since). These IUDs may be left in place for up to 10 years. Some of the older types (first generation) are: Copper 7 (Cu-7/Gravigard), TCu-200, Copper T, ML Cu-250, Tatum-T, etc. The major second-generation IUDs are the TCu-380A (ParaGard) and the newer, improved version TCu-380S (Gyne T Slimline), Nova T, and Multiload-375 (MLCu-375) standard and SL. Other brands include the Nova-T380, DanaCu, Superlux, and Ombrelle250. The newest types of copper-releasing IUDs are: Cu-Safe 300 (Flexi-T 300), Fincoid-350, and Sof-T.
In the U.S., only one type of copper-releasing IUD is available, an older brand, ParaGard.
The copper-releasing frameless IUD, as the name implies, doesn't have the rigid, or semiflexible plastic frame seen in the framed type. The frameless IUDs currently in use are GyneFix (scroll down for the picture) and GyneFix mini, which consist of six (four) small copper sleeves threaded on a suture string. The upper end of the thread has a knot which serves as an anchor. (The knot is anchored into the top area of the muscular wall of the uterus; this secures the device in place.) The frameless IUD may be left in place for up to 5 years.
Finally, the hormone-releasing IUD is one that releases a hormone (a progestin). The type available in the U.S. is an older, framed brand Mirena (it's been available in Europe for over a decade). Mirena may be left in place for up to five years. Two newer types of hormone-releasing IUDs soon to be available in Europe are the framed Femilis T (ten years life span), and the frameless FibroPlant (three years life span).
Obviously, each type and brand of implant and IUD has its advantages and disadvantages. In order to find the one that's best suited to your unique needs, make sure you go over the details of each group with your Ob/Gyn.