What Is a Vaginal Ring?

A vaginal ring is a device that is inserted into the vagina and has a few different purposes. These include reducing uterine or vaginal prolapse, delivering hormones to treat menopausal symptoms, and providing a consistent means of hormonal birth control. Most of these rings are soft and flexible, though they may have additional rigid parts, and they tend to be placed near the cervix, where women who use them or their sexual partners often don’t feel them. Further, rings usually won’t fall out because the vaginal muscles secure them in place, though there are exceptions.

In cases of uterine or vaginal prolapse, doctors may suggest the use of a vaginal ring, cube or another shape. The shaped part is ordinarily flexible plastic or silicone. This is attached to a hard plastic piece that can help stabilize the vagina or uterus and keep these structures from collapsing into each other. Doctors insert these rings, and the time they are worn depends on a woman’s medical condition. Such devices are emphatically not birth control, though there may be some hormones used during insertion.

Alternately, a vaginal ring may steadily release hormones into the body. In some cases, silicone or soft plastic rings release estrogen and/or progesterone to treat conditions like extreme vaginal dryness that may accompany perimenopause or menopause. Unlike the circular pessary used for prolapse, these devices aren’t attached to other parts. Also, once a woman is shown how to insert one, she can usually do this on her own. Typically, a single ring is used for about three months and then is replaced with a new one, if needed.

Perhaps the best known vaginal ring type is a birth control device that is used for three weeks, with a fourth week off so a "period" can occur. These rings are similar to those used for menopausal symptoms and gradually excrete hormones. They can also be inserted at home. Some women prefer the convenience of this method because they don’t need to remember to take pills every day and get protection comparable to other hormonal methods, provided they carefully follow instructions.

There are different complications associated with each kind of vaginal ring. Irritation may occur, resulting in itching or infection. Additionally, use of hormones creates significant risk for some women. Sometimes rings fall out, and especially the type used for birth control needs to be reinserted promptly. Occasionally, women may mistake the birth control vaginal ring for a disease-prevention method, and fail to use safer sex practices, which can risk the transmission of sexual diseases.

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