A vaginal ring, which is a hormonal method of birth control, is a flexible, plastic ring that is placed in the upper part of the vagina, where it releases the hormones estrogen and progestin. When the estrogen and progestin are absorbed through vaginal tissue into the body, they prevent a woman's body from ovulating (releasing an egg). In addition, progestin causes the mucus within the cervix to thicken, making it difficult for the sperm to reach the egg. Although it is only available through a prescription, a vaginal ring does not require a personalized fitting, and can be removed at any time.
Prescription and Use of the Vaginal Ring
A vaginal ring is prescribed by a physician after a physical examination. The physician determines which levels of hormones are appropriate, and when use of the vaginal ring should begin.
The vaginal ring is inserted by the woman into her vagina, and left in place for 21 days. She then removes it, which allows menstruation to occur. After 7 days, she inserts a new ring into her vagina for 3 more weeks of pregnancy protection.
Benefits of the Vaginal Ring
In addition to preventing pregnancy, a vaginal ring has the benefits of hormonal methods of birth control. These benefits include the following:
- Lighter and shorter periods
- Reduced menstrual cramps
- Decrease of acne
- Decreased risk of cancer of the uterus and ovaries
Hormonal birth control methods such as the vaginal ring are also used to treat abnormal or painful uterine bleeding and endometriosis.
Risks of the Vaginal Ring
Although the vaginal ring is a convenient and safe form of birth control, it does have some side effects and risks, which include the following:
- Vaginal irritation
- Vaginal discharge
- Breast tenderness
- Breakthrough bleeding
- Heart attack
- Blood clot
The vaginal ring does not provide any protection against HIV or sexually transmitted diseases. Women who are older than 35 or who smoke have a much higher risk of heart attack or stroke when using hormonal birth control methods such as the vaginal ring.
No contraception method is 100 percent effective. Women should consult with their doctors about the different types of oral contraception available, and to get answers to any questions they may have about contraception and family planning.