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What is a Contraceptive Ring?

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  • Written By: Bobby R. Goldsmith
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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A contraceptive ring is a plastic ring that a woman inserts into her vagina once a month as a method of birth control. The contraceptive ring secretes a low-dose cocktail of the hormones estrogen and progestin. These two hormones are found in most forms of modern birth control. Birth control through a contraceptive ring offers several advantages over oral or hypodermic birth control medications, but there are concerns regarding side effects as well.

The primary advantage to a vaginal contraceptive ring for birth control is that it affords women an insert-and-forget method of contraception. With birth control pills, a woman must keep to a rigid schedule, taking each pill on time, every day throughout the medication cycle. Any mistake can reduce the effectiveness and leave a woman susceptible to pregnancy. With a contraceptive ring, a woman inserts it and does not have to consider it again for an entire month.

The contraceptive ring works by slowly and consistently releasing estrogen and progestin in a dose that progresses and regresses during a 21- or 27-day cycle. This cycle is best matched to a woman's cycle of ovulation, ensuring the maximum amount of protection from potential pregnancy. Contraceptive rings must be removed and replaced once a month to ensure continued protection.

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Vaginal contraceptive rings are generally favored over hypodermic contraceptive shots, because contraceptive shots inject an entire one-month course of hormones all at once. This can lead to numerous side effects. The contraceptive ring can also be used by a woman without the aid of a doctor, whereas a hypodermic contraceptive shot requires a doctor or nurse to administer it. A woman can place and remove the contraceptive ring in her own home.

There are side effects to the contraceptive ring, though. Several brands of vaginal contraceptive rings have been connected with the formation of blood clots and strokes and with varying degrees of cardiopulmonary disease. While no formal link has been established, a statistically significant number of women using the contraceptive ring have reported the onset of these conditions following the use of the birth control medication.

Some women with no other risk factors for heart disease or stroke have suffered these conditions following the use of the medication. Blood clots are the most common of the medical side effects of the device. Minor side effects include mood swings, the loss of sexual desire, weight gain, and fluid retention.

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