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NuvaRing Birth Control Ring

The NuvaRing birth control ring is a popular choice for contraception because it is convenient and effective. But it comes with side effects that can include serious blood clots and heart conditions for some women who use it.

*Please seek the advice of a medical professional before discontinuing the use of this medical device.

NuvaRing Birth Control Ring

What Is NuvaRing?

NuvaRing is the first, and only, vaginal birth control ring. Available only by prescription, this flexible plastic ring, about two inches in diameter, is placed in the vagina where it releases a continuous, low dose of hormones to prevent pregnancy. A NuvaRing is inserted for three weeks, after which it is removed and a new one can be inserted after a one-week interval.

The hormones in NuvaRing — estrogen (ethinyl estradiol) and progestin (etonogestrel) — prevent eggs from leaving the ovaries. As a secondary mechanism of birth control, they also create changes in cervical mucus, which inhibits sperm from penetrating eggs.

NuvaRing is a combined hormonal contraceptive (CHC), a class of drugs that includes birth control patches and pills. While patches must be replaced weekly and pills have to be taken daily, the once-a-month approach has made convenience a major marketing point for NuvaRing’s current manufacturer, Merck & Co., Inc.

NuvaRing Timeline

  • 2001

    Organon Biosciences receives FDA approval for NuvaRing

  • 2007

    Schering-Plough acquires Organon BioSciences for $14.4 billion

  • 2009

    Merck & Co. acquires Schering-Plough for $41.1 billion

  • 2010

    Merck & Co. reports $88.5 million in sales from NuvaRing

  • 2016

    Merck & Co. reports $777 million in annual sales of NuvaRing

How Effective Is NuvaRing at Preventing Pregnancy?

By 2010, 6 percent of U.S. women who used birth control reported using NuvaRing at some point in the previous four years. The Guttmacher Institute estimates 759,000 women were using it as their method of birth control by 2012.

NuvaRing’s failure rate is 0.3 percent for perfect use and 9 percent for typical use, similar to birth control pills and patches.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines “perfect use” as when a birth control method is used “correctly and consistently as directed.” “Typical use” is defined as how effective a method is during actual use, including those times with it is used inconsistently or incorrectly.

The percentages are based on the number out of 100 women who became pregnant within the first year of using it as a birth control method. In other words, if 1,000 women all used NuvaRing perfectly for a full year, there would be only three unintended pregnancies. If 1,000 women used NuvaRing as they typically would use it, there would be 90 unintended pregnancies.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of NuvaRing?

It is important to discuss your complete medical history with your doctor before using NuvaRing. Medical conditions or other medications you are taking may cause increased risks.

Advantages Disadvantages
Simple and convenient Incompatible or dangerous for women with certain medical conditions
Fewer hormonal effects than pill or patch Increased risk of potentially fatal heart attack, stroke, and blood clots
Can lead to regular, lighter and shorter periods Potential for bleeding between periods
Exact positioning is not needed for it to be effective Possible nausea and vomiting
No need to be fitted by a doctor May cause vaginal discharge, irritation, or infection
Discreet, no one may know you are using it May cause breast tenderness
Since it is inserted once a month, it may allow for greater spontaneity Can reduce libido in users

Who Should Not Use NuvaRing?

Women with certain medical conditions or characteristics should not use NuvaRing.

You should not use NuvaRing if you:

  • Smoke and are over the age of 35
  • Have a high risk of arterial or venous thrombotic diseases
  • Have liver tumors or liver disease
  • Have undiagnosed abnormal uterine bleeding
  • Are pregnant
  • Have or have had breast cancer or other cancers sensitive to estrogen or progestin
  • Have a hypersensitivity to any NuvaRing component

You should let your doctor know if you meet any of these conditions when discussing NuvaRing.

NuvaRing Risks

The most serious side effects of NuvaRing include an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots.

A 2012 study of 1.6 million women’s medical records covering a 10-year period found those who used NuvaRing faced a “6.5 times increased risk of confirmed venous thrombosis compared with non-users of hormonal contraception.”

Deep Vein Thrombosis Micrograph
Thrombosis in leg vein

Venous thrombosis is the formation of blood clots in the veins, most often in the large veins of the legs, called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVTs can be extremely painful, and if a clot breaks free, it can be fatal. The clot can travel to the lungs, block an artery, and cause a pulmonary embolism (PE). The combination of DVT and PE is referred to as venous thromboembolism (VTE). VTE is the third most frequently diagnosed vascular condition in American, behind heart attack and stroke.

In October 2011, the FDA released a study of more than 800,000 women that found an increased risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) among women using NuvaRing compared to oral CHCs.

While NuvaRing contains hormones comparable to birth control pills, as much as half of the hormones from pills are destroyed in the digestive tract, while the hormones from NuvaRing are absorbed directly into the body. NuvaRing uses a lower dose of hormones than pills, but the third-generation progestin (etonogestrel) in its formula has been linked to a higher clotting risk.

Author

Terry is an Emmy-winning former television journalist. He covered the White House and Congress for five years as an investigative reporter the CONUS Washington Bureau, serving for 100 local TV news departments around the U.S.

View Sources
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