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NuvaRing Birth Control: What Are The Risks?

Updated on November 28, 2010

We’ve already discussed the Mirena IUD system, and by the end of that article I’d made it clear I wasn’t favoring the idea of having one of those inside of me. And I’m not. I am, however, far more receptive to the idea of using the NuvaRing, despite all the panicky woman crying about the estrogen it contains. I’ll explain why I’m not overly concerned, but first let’s look at the basics.

  • What is the NuvaRing? It’s a soft, odorless, flexible ring spanning roughly 2 inches in diameter. It contains both estrogen and progestin (as do The Pill and The Patch) and is inserted by YOU – not your doctor. It’s also removed by you, which is one of the reasons I like it so much.

  • Why is it better than The Pill? To start, the NuvaRing contains less estrogen and progestin than The Pill, and less is always better when it comes to things like hormones. In addition to that, the hormones are slowly and steadily released into the vagina. This makes for consistent levels in the blood, as opposed to one big dose the body needs to sort out on its own, as happens when using The Pill. Think of it as taking a time-release vitamin C tablet, instead of one whopping dose that you’ll just pee away before it has a chance to be absorbed. (Ok, that might not be the best analogy, but you’re a smart gal, you can figure out what I mean!)

  • How does it work? It prevents ovulation, and also thins the lining of the uterus, which would make it difficult for an egg to implant, in the event fertilization might somehow occur. It also thickens the cervical mucous, which helps keep those pesky sperm from breaking and entering.

  • How do I get it and how much does it cost? Your doctor prescribes it for you, you go to the pharmacy, get a box of them and use them accordingly. You do NOT need to be fitted! It costs about $35 a month.

  • How do I use it? You insert a single ring into the vagina (all the way back to the cervix) and leave it there for 3 weeks. You can do all your kinky stuff during this time, and neither you, nor your man, should notice the ring is in there. When the 3 weeks are up, you take it out and trash it – you will put a new one in 7 days later. You should put it in at the same time you put the previous one in there. Really! That’s what they recommend! Note: Most women get their period during those 7 days without, but it is often lighter and shorter in duration, because the thinner uterus lining leaves less blood to shed.

  • How effective is it? They say it’s 99.9% effective, which is pretty much as good as it gets.

  • What are the risks? There are a few, let’s start with clotting potential, as I view this is as the most life threatening: Some people worry about the estrogen inclusion, voicing concerns about increased risk of clotting problems. Yes, that’s true – using this (or The Pill or The Patch) will increase the odds you might throw a clot and experience deep vein thrombosis or other associated problems.

  • But it will NOT increase the risk any more than The Pill does. This is an important distinction. Everything comes with a risk – it just depends which risk you feel is warranted.

  • Obviously, certain populations should not take this risk without speaking at length with a physician. These people are: Women who smoke – especially those over 35 years of age. Women with high blood pressure. Women who suffer with migraines. Women with high cholesterol. Women who are obese. Women who have diabetes. You get the idea. Anyone who already has a health issue of some kind should really reconsider using this.

  • The Cancer Risk I’m singling this one out because I find it particularly annoying and misleading. I’ve heard people in favor of the Mirena IUD use this as the big determining factor. These people are either being paid to say this, or they don’t know jack about it.The Pill has been studied for 45 years and the estrogen has been found (the same as you find in the NuvaRing) to significantly REDUCE the risk of several forms of cancer.

  • According to information made available by the University of Illinois, 3 years of use decreases a woman’s chance of developing ovarian cancer by 40%. After 10 years? 80%. It also decreases the odds of developing uterine cancer. Risk of breast cancer seems to show no significant change in either direction. That said, there does seem to a slight chance that it MIGHT increase odds of cervical cancer, though it’s noted there could be other factors causing that, such as sex partners and STD communication.

That last sentence is crucial – while no one is 100% certain of what causes cervical cancer, we know it’s not like breast cancer. You don’t just wake up one day with a lump you never saw coming. Cervical cancer is often (not always, obviously) something you put yourself at risk for, via unsafe sexual practices and multiple partners. However, cervical cancer is also usually very easily treated when caught early, and that’s the whole point of having a yearly PAP smear. If, however, you’ve had a number of abnormal PAP results, you may want to reconsider this form of birth control.

  • Who definitely shouldn’t use it?Nursing mothers. Anyone with a clotting history. Anyone considered already to be at risk for clotting problems.

  • Why I’m leaning toward trying it: I want control over my own body. I don’t want to have to rely on an Ob/Gyn if I want it out. If I want this out, I take it out. If I want to stop, I stop. I don’t need to worry about whether or not it’s in the right place, cos I can check it myself. No, I’m not thrilled with the idea of putting hormones in my body, but, hey, that’s life. I put nicotine and other carcinogens in my body for 13 years while I smoked – this is a lot safer. I don’t consider myself to be at risk for clotting problems, and therefore find this to me a safe solution for me. To determine if it’s the best option for you, have a chat with your Ob/Gyn.

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