The NuvaRing is a thin, transparent, flexible ring that is inserted by a woman into her lower reproductive tract. It slowly secretes estrogen and progestin hormones to prevent pregnancy. It is used for three weeks, removed for a week, and then replaced with a new ring for another three weeks. During the week off, the woman usually experiences a withdrawal bleed, which is similar to a normal period. This pattern of use is continued as long as the woman wishes to contracept.

When used perfectly, it is over 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. However, with typical use, it has an annual failure rate of 8 percent.[1] Its method of action is similar to the birth control pill. According to the makers of the ring, it inhibits ovulation, changes the cervical mucus, and changes the endometrium, which reduces the likelihood of a baby implanting in the uterus.[2]. So while it can act as a contraceptive, it also can work as an abortifacient.

Side effects of the ring include heart attack, blood clots, stroke, liver tumors, gallbladder disease, breast cancer, partial or complete loss of vision, retinal lesions, swelling of the optic nerve, forward displacement (bulging) of the eyes, double vision, headache, bleeding irregularities, ectopic pregnancy, yellowing of the skin or eyes, fluid retention, weight gain, emotional disorders, depression, toxic shock syndrome, respiratory tract infection, nausea, infected or inflamed sinuses, elevated blood pressure, bloating, cramps, facial skin discoloration, temporary infertility following treatment, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, rash, yeast infection, change in corneal curvature (steepening of the external eye), increased PMS, cataracts, inflammation with lumps and reddening of the skin below the knees, skin eruptions, excessive hair growth in unusual locations, loss of scalp hair, impaired kidney function, acne, inflammation of the colon, coughing blood, crushing chest pain, problems with speech, numbness in limbs, fainting, or death.[3]

The hormones released by the ring also increase a woman’s sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). This side effect, which is also caused by birth control pills, may cause permanent damage to a woman’s sex drive.[4] While the makers of the ring admit that the drug will increase a woman’s SHBG, they do not explain what this could mean for the patient.[5]

If a mother breast-feeds a child while she uses the ring, it may decrease the quality and quantity of her breast milk. Contraceptive steroid hormones also will pass to the baby through the milk. Adverse side effects for the infant include breast enlargement and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Therefore, nursing mothers are advised not to use the drug until the child is weaned.[6]

Based on their research on hamsters and rats, it appears that the ring will not have a long-term negative impact on a woman’s fertility.[7] But because the ring is new, its long-term side effects are uncertain. The makers of the ring assume that the complications will be similar to those that occur in women who use combination birth control pills (estrogen and progestin). Because of the absence of research, however, the drug company simply says that there is not enough data available to determine if the ring is more or less dangerous than the Pill.[8] We’ll just have to wait and see.

We can hope that the drug will not remain on the market for long. In February 2007 a group representing more than a hundred thousand consumers petitioned the head of the FDA to ban “third generation” birth control pills that contain the same hormones in the ring, because of the increased risk of blood clots.[9]

Because of deaths and other injuries caused by NuvaRing, online forums against the device have been created. On these Websites hundreds of women express their frustration and forewarn others. Lawsuits are beginning to mount against Organon, the maker of the NuvaRing. However, the company should have no problem paying off any claims, because Organon has made hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from their two contraceptives, NuvaRing and Implanon.[10]
[1]. R.A. Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology, Nineteenth Revised Edition (New York: Ardent Media, 2007).
[2]. NuvaRing Physician’s Insert.
[3]. NuvaRing Physician’s Insert.
[4]. “Can Taking the Pill Dull a Woman’s Desire Forever?” New Scientist (May 27, 2005), 17; Panzer, et al., “Impact of Oral Contraceptives on Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin and Androgen Levels: A Retrospective Study in Women with Sexual Dysfunction,” Journal of Sexual Medicine 3:1 (January 2006), 104–113.
[5]. NuvaRing Physician’s Insert.
[6]. NuvaRing Physician’s Insert.
[7]. NuvaRing Physician’s Insert.
[8]. NuvaRing Physician’s Insert.
[9]. “Petition to the FDA to Ban Third Generation Oral Contraceptives Containing Desogestrel Due to Increased Risk of Venous Thrombosis” (Health Research Group, Publication #1799), February 6, 2007.
[10]. Theresa Agovino, “Schering-Plough to Buy Akzo Nobel’s Pharmaceutical Division for $14.4 Billion,” Associated Press (March 12, 2007).

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