NuvaRing is a vaginal contraceptive ring. While this form of birth control is generally safe, it does increase your risk of blood clots. This article talks about blood clots and other side effects and explains how NuvaRing works.
NuvaRing and blood clots: Symptoms and risk factors
Blood clots are one of the most serious side effects that can occur with NuvaRing. Blood clots from NuvaRing are not common. However, they’re important to keep in mind because they can cause serious problems.
Blood clots can form in your arm, leg, or groin and then move to other parts of your body. When this happens, the clot can block your blood flow. This can cause life-threatening problems, such as:
- stroke, which is caused by a clot in your brain
- heart attack, which is caused by a clot in your heart
- pulmonary embolism, which is caused by a clot in your lungs
Symptoms of a blood clot can include:
- severe leg pain or swelling that doesn’t go away
- redness or heat in your leg muscles
- shortness of breath
- severe and sudden headache
- pain or pressure in your chest
Call your doctor right away if you have any symptoms of a blood clot. If your symptoms feel life-threatening or you think you’re having a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.
For many women, the risk of blood clots with use of NuvaRing is very low. However, certain factors put you at higher risk of blood clots from NuvaRing. These risk factors can include:
- being age 35 years or older
- smoking cigarettes
- having a medical history of:
- blood clots or blood clotting disorders
- heart attack
- migraine headaches with aura
If you have any of these risk factors, be sure to discuss them with your doctor. Your doctor may suggest a different form of birth control for you.
How NuvaRing may cause blood clots
There are two main reasons why NuvaRing can cause blood clots. First, NuvaRing contains desogestrel, a form of the hormone progesterone. Desogestrel is classified as a third-generation progestin. (That means it is the third version of the drug to come on the market.) According to one study, third-generation progestins are linked to an increased risk of blood clots, although it’s not fully understood why.
Second, the way your body absorbs the hormones from your birth control can also affect your blood clot risk. When you take hormones by mouth, such as with birth control pills, your body breaks down some of the hormones in your stomach and intestines. Then the hormones enter your bloodstream. However, with NuvaRing, your body absorbs the hormones directly into your bloodstream. This difference may add to the higher rates of blood clots in NuvaRing users than in women who take the pill. Again, the reason for the increased risk is not fully understood.
NuvaRing is a small, flexible, plastic ring that you insert into your vagina. Your healthcare provider will tell you how to insert the ring.
You’ll insert NuvaRing yourself at home and wear it for 3 weeks. After that, you’ll remove it for 1 week. Your period will likely start during this last week. At the end of that week, you’ll insert a new ring.
The ring releases small amounts of hormones into your body while you wear it. These hormones help prevent pregnancy in several ways.
Ovulation is when one of your ovaries releases an egg. When NuvaRing prevents ovulation, there is no egg for sperm cells to fertilize.
Thickening your cervical mucus
Cervical mucus is a substance your body secretes near your cervix. When the mucus is thickened, it’s harder for sperm cells to swim through the vaginal canal. If an egg were released, it would be harder for the sperm to reach it to fertilize it.
Changing your endometrium
Your endometrium is the lining of your uterus. Changes to this lining make it harder for a fertilized egg to implant in it. If a fertilized egg can’t implant, you can’t get pregnant.
Side effects of NuvaRing
Like any medication, NuvaRing carries a risk of side effects. Most of these side effects aren’t serious and may go away as your body adjusts to the drug. However, you should call your doctor if any of these side effects bother you or don't go away. These side effects can include:
- discomfort from the ring
- irritation of your vagina or cervix
- decreased sex drive
- weight gain
- breast tenderness
- vaginal spotting (light bleeding)
NuvaRing can also cause serious side effects. If you have any of these side effects, call your doctor right away. If your symptoms feel life-threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency, call 9-1-1. The serious side effects of NuvaRing can include:
- Blood clots
- Toxic shock syndrome. Symptoms can include:
- sudden high fever
- a sunburn-like rash
- muscle pain
- Liver damage. Symptoms can include:
- severe pain in your abdomen
- yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes
- high blood pressure
Talk with your doctor
For many women, NuvaRing is a convenient, effective, and safe form of birth control. However, the risk of blood clots can be a concern.
If you’re interested in using NuvaRing, talk with your doctor about your risk of blood clots. Be sure to provide your full health history and let them know about any other medications or supplements you use. Your doctor can help determine if NuvaRing could be a safe birth control option for you.