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When choosing a method of birth control, it is important to know all the options available to you and understand how they work, as well as the pros and cons of each. The vaginal ring (commonly known by its brand name NuvaRing) has been in use for just under two decades since being approved by the FDA in 2001. It is a hormonal form of birth control, which means that it uses synthetic versions of the chemicals naturally produced by your body to prevent ovulation. Oral contraceptives are also a hormonal form of birth control, but unlike birth control pills that need to be taken once per day, vaginal rings provide contraceptive protection continuously for three weeks before needing to be replaced. Although most women report satisfaction with this method of birth control, it is not for everyone.
Vaginal rings are about two inches around and made of clear, flexible plastic. They contain synthetic progestin and estrogen hormones, preventing ovulation by shifting the hormonal balance within your body. By thickening your cervical mucus, the hormones also impede the passage of sperm into the fallopian tube where fertilization of an egg would normally occur.
After insertion, the vaginal ring delivers hormones to your system by releasing them through the tissue of the vaginal wall. It remains in place for three weeks with a one-week break in between. In theory, the week that you take off should coincide with your period. However, even if your period does not match up exactly with your “off week”, you should still insert a new vaginal ring exactly one week after removing the old one, regardless of where you are in your menstrual cycle.
Placing the ring deep into the vagina reduces the likelihood of the ring being felt, but you can place it anywhere in the vagina. It can be left in during intercourse—few complaints of discomfort from women who use it or their partners have been reported. However, you can remove the ring for up to three hours with no loss of efficacy if you prefer to remove it during intercourse.
Insert the vaginal ring by removing it from the foil package (save it for disposal purposes later). With clean hands, squeeze it between your fingers and insert it into your vagina. Remove and dispose of the vaginal rink (inside its original foil packet) after three weeks of use.
Use of hormonal birth control may not be appropriate for smokers and women in other high-risk categories. As with all hormonal forms of birth control, there is an increased risk of developing blood clots, which can lead to medical conditions such as deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Vaginal rings do not protect against sexually transmitted infections. Possible side effects include the following:
Nevertheless, there are fewer side effects with the vaginal ring compared to oral contraceptives, and the risk of blood clots is about the same. Women who use a vaginal ring find it to be easy and convenient, as well as highly effective. With typical use, the failure rate is 9 percent.
If you are considering starting, restarting or changing your birth control regimen, consult your doctor for recommendations.
“About the Vaginal Ring.” Healthline.
“Choosing a Birth Control Method.” Association of Reproductive Health Professionals.
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.