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The NuvaRing Health Scare

A recent story in Vanity Fair told the shocking stories of women who experienced terrifying medical complications that they believe were caused by NuvaRing, a vaginal, hormonal contraceptive. As of September, approximate 1,700 lawsuits were filed against NuvaRing’s maker, Merck & Co., and the suits are scheduled to go to court starting April 2014 in Missouri. The legal fight to come may bring about big changes, but here’s a chance to put into perspective what we know about NuvaRing right now.

What Is NuvaRing?

NuvaRing is a flexible, transparent, plastic ring that contains two types of hormones common to other forms of birth control: estrogen and progestin. These hormones prevent pregnancy by suppressing ovulation (keeping you from releasing eggs) and thickening the mucus that’s in your cervix. Thicker mucus makes it harder for sperm to reach the egg.

Women who use NuvaRing put it in their vaginas once a month. After three weeks, they take it out and let themselves have a period for a week. Then, they put a new ring in for the next month.

The Risks

The common side effects of NuvaRing are similar to those of other birth controls, like bleeding between periods, breast tenderness, and nausea. Perhaps the scariest side effect is the increased risk of blood clots, but this, too, is a risk often associated with other popular birth controls.

If you want to compare the risks of various types of birth control, it can be a challenge. It’s a heated area of research and each study is done differently, so you don’t want to compare results across different studies unless you really know what they’re talking about. Still, there are some that can give us a general understanding of the relative risks. One of these is a Danish study from 2012 that looked at the patch, vaginal rings, and the pill.

These researchers found that the patch resulted in a 7.9-fold increase in the blood clot risk relative to women not using hormonal birth control, while the risk from vaginal rings and oral hormonal contraceptive was increased by 6.5 and 3.2 times, respectively. So they did find a greater risk in vaginal ring users, but it wasn’t as high as some other kinds of birth control. Other research has found the risk of blood clots with NuvaRing may also be lower than the risk you run with newer birth control pills that contain drospirenone, like Yaz.

The Big Picture

While the numbers vary quite a bit between different studies, the general trend in research seems to show that many different hormone contraceptives increase the risk of blood clot. However, most evidence also points to the fact that women have a higher risk of blood clots during and right after pregnancy than they would while using any of these types of birth control. If you are using birth control, one of the best safety measures you can take is to read up on the risks and be aware of what symptoms of side effects look and feel like.

 

Sources:

Lidegaard Ø et al. “Venous thrombosis in users of non-oral hormonal contraception: follow-up study, Denmark 2001-10”

 

“The common side effects of NuvaRing are similar to those of other birth controls, like bleeding between periods, breast tenderness, and nausea. Perhaps the scariest side effect is the increased risk of blood clots, but this, too, is a risk often associated with other popular birth controls.”

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