The birth control ring is a small, thin, flexible ring a woman inserts into her vagina to prevent pregnancy. It slowly releases hormones through the vaginal wall into the bloodstream. The hormones are the same as the birth control pill — estrogen and progestin. It is commonly called by its brand name, NuvaRing.
Each ring provides one month of birth control. It is worn continuously for three weeks followed by one week off. During that week, menstruation should start.
The exact position of the ring isn’t critical as long as it’s comfortable. It can be left in during bathing, exercise and intercourse.
The birth control ring is 92 to 99.7 percent effective. However it doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
There are several advantages to the ring. There’s no need to take a daily pill. Many women report more regular, lighter, and shorter periods. The ability to become pregnant returns quickly when use stops.
Because the ring works like the pill, it offers similar benefits which may include some protection against acne, bone thinning, bad menstrual cramps, endometrial and ovarian cancers, iron deficiency anemia, and premenstrual symptoms.
Working like the pill means it has similar disadvantages too, like unpleasant side effects. Some of the most common are mild and typically clear up after two or three months. They include irregular menstrual bleeding, breast tenderness, mood changes, nausea and vomiting and blood clots (these are rare in women under 35 who do not smoke). It may also cause increased vaginal discharge, vaginal irritation or problems with contact lens use.
The most serious problems of birth control with estrogen – although very rare – can be fatal. These include heart attack, stroke, or having a blood clot in the brain, heart, legs, or lungs.
Other rare risks include developing high blood pressure, liver tumors, gallstones, or jaundice. The risk for these problems increase for women age 35 or older, who are very overweight, have certain inherited blood-clotting disorders, have diabetes, have high blood pressure, have high cholesterol, need prolonged bed rest, and who smoke.