Levonorgestrel is a prescription medication that is a hormone-releasing system placed in the uterus to prevent pregnancy for up to 5 years. This hormone-releasing system is a type of intrauterine system also know as an intrauterine device (IUD). It is also used to lessen menstrual blood loss in women who have heavy menstrual flow and who also want to use a birth control method that is placed in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Levonorgestrel belongs to a group of drugs called progestins which change the lining of the uterus, alter cervical mucus, and make it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus.
This medication comes in the form of a plastic device that is inserted by a healthcare provider into the uterus.
Common side effects of levonorgestrel include irregular menstrual periods, back pain, headache, and nausea.
Levonorgestrel can cause serious side effects including:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Some intrauterine device (IUD) users get a serious pelvic infection called pelvic inflammatory disease. PID is usually sexually transmitted. You have a higher chance of getting PID if you or your partner have sex with other partners. PID can cause serious problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy or pelvic pain that does not go away. PID is usually treated with antibiotics. More serious cases of PID may require surgery. A hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) is sometimes needed. In rare cases, infections that start as PID can even cause death.
- Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these signs of PID: long-lasting or heavy bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge, low abdominal (stomach area) pain, painful sex, chills, or fever.
- Life-threatening infection. Life-threatening infection can occur within the first few days after the IUD is placed. Call your healthcare provider if you develop severe pain within a few hours after the IUD is placed.
- Embedment. IUD may become attached to the uterine wall. This is called embedment. If embedment happens, this medication may no longer prevent pregnancy and you may need surgery to have it removed.
- Perforation. The IUD may go through the uterus. This is called perforation. If your uterus is perforated, this medication may no longer prevent pregnancy. It may move outside the uterus and can cause internal scarring, infection, or damage to other organs, and you may need surgery to have the IUD removed.
Common side effects of levonorgestrel include:
- Pain, bleeding or dizziness during and after placement. If these symptoms do not stop 30 minutes after placement, the IUD may not have been placed correctly. Your healthcare provider will examine you to see if the IUD needs to be removed or replaced.
- Expulsion. The IUD may come out by itself. This is called expulsion. You may become pregnant if the IUD comes out. If you notice the IUD has come out, use a backup birth control method like condoms and call your healthcare provider.
- Missed menstrual periods. About 2 out of 10 women stop having periods after 1 year of levonorgestrel use. If you do not have a period for 6 weeks during levonorgestrel use, call your healthcare provider. When the IUD is removed, your menstrual periods will come back.
- Changes in bleeding. You may have bleeding and spotting between menstrual periods, especially during the first 3 to 6 months. Sometimes the bleeding is heavier than usual at first. However, the bleeding usually becomes lighter than usual and may be irregular. Call your healthcare provider if the bleeding remains heavier than usual or if the bleeding becomes heavy after it has been light for a while.
- Cyst on the ovary. About 12 out of 100 women using this hormone-releasing system develop a cyst on the ovary. These cysts usually disappear on their own in a month or two. However, cysts can cause pain and sometimes cysts will need surgery.
Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take including prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Especially tell your doctor if you take:
- St. John’s wort
- HIV protease inhibitors
- non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors
- Levonorgestrel does not protect against HIV infection (AIDS) and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
- Cigarette smoking increases the risk of serious cardiovascular (CV) events. Risk increases with age (>35 yrs) and with the number of cigarettes smoked.
- Should not be used by women who are >35 yrs of age and smoke.
Do not use this medication if you:
- might be pregnant
- have had a serious pelvic infection called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) unless you have had a normal pregnancy after the infection went away
- have an untreated pelvic infection now
- have had a serious pelvic infection in the past 3 months after a pregnancy
- can get infections easily. For example, if you have:
- more than one sexual partner or your partner has more than one partner
- problems with your immune system
- intravenous drug abuse
- have or suspect you might have cancer of the uterus or cervix
- have bleeding from the vagina that has not been explained
- have liver disease or liver tumor
- have breast cancer now or in the past or suspect you have breast cancer
- have an intrauterine device in your uterus already
- have a condition of the uterus that changes the shape of the uterine cavity, such as large fibroid tumors
- are allergic to levonorgestrel, silicone, or polyethylene
Medications can interact with certain foods. In some cases, this may be harmful and your doctor may advise you to avoid certain foods. In the case of levonorgestrel, there are no specific foods that you must exclude from your diet when receiving this medication.
Before having the intrauterine device (IUD) placed, tell your doctor if you:
- have had a heart attack
- have had a stroke
- were born with heart disease or have problems with your heart valves
- have problems with blood clotting or take medicine to reduce clotting
- have high blood pressure
- recently had a baby or if you are breastfeeding
- have diabetes (high blood sugar)
- use corticosteroid medications on a long-term basis
- have severe migraine headaches
Tell your doctor about all of the medicines you take including prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.
Call your healthcare provider right away if you think you are pregnant. If you get pregnant while using this medication, you may have an ectopic pregnancy. This means that the pregnancy is not in the uterus. Unusual vaginal bleeding or abdominal pain may be a sign of ectopic pregnancy.
Ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency that often requires surgery. Ectopic pregnancy can cause internal bleeding, infertility, and even death.
There are also risks if you get pregnant while using this medication and the pregnancy is in the uterus. Severe infection, miscarriage, premature delivery, and even death can occur with pregnancies that continue with an intrauterine device (IUD). Because of this, your healthcare provider may try to remove the IUD, even though removing it may cause a miscarriage. If the IUD cannot be removed, talk with your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of continuing the pregnancy.
If you continue your pregnancy, see your healthcare provider regularly. Call your healthcare provider right away if you get flu-like symptoms, fever, chills, cramping, pain, bleeding, vaginal discharge, or fluid leaking from your vagina. These may be signs of infection.
It is not known if this hormone-releasing system can cause long-term effects on the fetus if it stays in place during a pregnancy.
You may use the intrauterine device (IUD) when you are breastfeeding if more than six weeks have passed since you had your baby. If you are breastfeeding, the IUD is not likely to affect the quality or amount of your breast milk or the health of your nursing baby. However, isolated cases of decreased milk production have been reported among women using progestin-only birth control pills.
First, your healthcare provider will examine your pelvis to find the exact position of your uterus. Your healthcare provider will then clean your vagina and cervix with an antiseptic solution, and slide a thin plastic tube containing the intrauterine device (IUD) into your uterus. Your healthcare provider will then remove the plastic tube, and leave the IUD in your uterus. Your healthcare provider will cut the threads to the right length. Placement takes only a few minutes during an office visit.
You may experience pain, bleeding or dizziness during and after placement. If these symptoms do not pass 30 minutes after placement, the IUD may not have been placed correctly. Your healthcare provider will examine you to see if the IUD needs to be removed or replaced.
You should check that the IUD is in proper position by feeling the removal threads. You should do this after each menstrual period. First, wash your hands with soap and water. Feel for the threads at the top of your vagina with your clean fingers. The threads are the only part of the IUD you should feel when it is in your uterus. Be careful not to pull on the threads. If you feel more than just the threads, the IUD is not in the right position and may not prevent pregnancy. Call your healthcare provider to have it removed. If you cannot feel the threads at all, ask your healthcare provider to check the IUD is still in the right place. In either case, use a non-hormonal birth control method (such as condoms or spermicide) until otherwise advised by your healthcare provider.
Call your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns. Otherwise, you should return to your healthcare provider for a follow-up visit 4 to 12 weeks after the IUD is placed to make sure that it is in the right position.
Tampons may be used with the IUD.
Call your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about this medication. Be sure to call if you:
- think you are pregnant
- have pelvic pain or pain during sex
- have unusual vaginal discharge or genital sores
- have unexplained fever
- might be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- cannot feel the IUD threads
- develop very severe or migraine headaches
- have yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes. These may be signs of liver problems.
- have a stroke or heart attack
- or your partner becomes HIV positive
- have severe vaginal bleeding or bleeding that lasts a long time
The intrauterine device (IUD) contains 52 mg of levonorgestrel. Initially, levonorgestrel is released at a rate of approximately 20 mcg/day. This rate decreases over time to half that amount after 5 years.
Levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system contains a total of 52 mg levonorgestrel and is available in a carton of one sterile unit. Each hormone-releasing system is packaged together with an inserter in a thermoformed blister package with a peelable lid.
It is supplied sterile, and is sterilized with ethylene oxide. Do not resterilize. For single use only. Do not use if the inner package is damaged or open. Insert before the end of the month shown on the label.
Store between 15–30°C (59–86°F).