Vaginal Ring

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 29, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Patricia Geraghty MSN, WHNP, FNP-BC on July 29, 2014

What Is the Vaginal Ring?

The vaginal ring is a method of hormonal birth control. It is also known by its brand name, NuvaRing. The FDA approved the vaginal ring for use in 2001.NuvaRing is a small, flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina to prevent pregnancy. It is made out of plastic and contains the synthetic hormones estrogen and progestin. The ring is about two inches in diameter. It is left in for three weeks at a time.

The vaginal ring is one of the highly effective methods with approximately nine in one hundred women becoming pregnant in one year’s typical use.

How Does the Vaginal Ring Work?

The vaginal ring prevents pregnancy by continuously releasing hormones which are absorbed into the bloodstream. These hormones—estrogen and progestin—prevent ovulation. With no egg release pregnancy cannot occur. Estrogen and progestin also thicken the cervical mucus, which prevents sperm from passing through.

The vaginal ring works in the same way as monophasic birth control pills.. These are combined hormonal contraceptives where the same dose is taken throughout your cycle.

How Do I Use the Vaginal Ring?

You need a prescription to use the vaginal ring. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the best birth control option for you. You should plan to start using the vaginal ring as soon as you obtain it, if you do not believe that you are pregnant. Use a back-up method until the ring has been in place for seven days.

The ring is very simple to use.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Remove the ring from the package and insert it into your vagina.
  • After three weeks, use clean hands to remove the ring. You should get your period in the week that you are not using the ring.
  • Package it in the original foil packet and throw it away.
  • After one week, insert a new ring. You should insert a new ring even if you are still menstruating.

It is important that you remove or insert the ring on the same day of the week. For example, if you insert a new ring on Monday, you should remove it on that same day of the week three weeks later.

If the ring falls out, rinse it off and put it back in. If the ring is out of your vagina for longer than three hours, use backup contraception. The ring may fall out when you:

  • remove a tampon
  • have a bowel movement
  • have sex

How Effective is the Vaginal Ring?

When used properly, the vaginal ring is very effective. According to Planned Parenthood, less than one out of 100 women who use the ring properly will get pregnant. The failure rate is nine percent for women who do not consistently use the ring as directed.

In addition to incorrect use, certain drugs can reduce the efficacy of the ring. These include:

  • St. John’s wort
  • rifampin
  • some HIV medications
  • some anti-seizure medications

If you use any of these drugs, or misuse the ring, it is a good idea to use a backup form of contraception.

What Are the Benefits of the Vaginal Ring?

The vaginal ring offers many of the same benefits as birth control pills. Benefits include:

  • highly effective contraception
  • easy to use
  • no need to remember pills
  • fewer side effects than oral contraceptives
  • regulation of menstruation; you will likely have shorter and lighter periods

Some women use the ring and other hormonal contraceptives to control when they get their period. They can shift their periods when they remove the ring. Some women use the ring continuously to avoid having periods at all.

What Are the Disadvantages of the Vaginal Ring?

Overall, the vaginal ring is very safe and effective. Its primary disadvantage is that it does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

The ring can also cause side effects in some women. The most common complaints are:

  • spotting between periods
  • nausea
  • breast tenderness
  • vaginal irritation and/or infections

Most side effects usually go away in a few cycles.

If you stop using the ring, your periods should return to normal within a few months.

What Are the Risks of the Vaginal Ring?

All hormonal birth control carries a slightly increased risk of blood clotting, although the risk doesn’t differ between pill, patches, or ring. This can lead to:

  • deep vein thrombosis
  • stroke
  • pulmonary embolism
  • heart attack

Talk to your doctor about your risk factors. Smokers over the age of 25 and other high risk women should not use estrogen-containing contraceptives.

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