Birth Control Method Risks ~ The Real, True NuvaRing Story

Another month, another sensationalistic article about women’s health, right? You may have seen Vanity Fair’s recent piece, Danger In The Ring, and wondered what’s going on with the NuvaRing– a fairly popular method of birth control that Vanity Fair decries as “potentially lethal.”

First off, let’s chat about the NuvaRing. It’s a small, flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina once a month and releases hormones into the body, and it’s about 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. The ring contains the same hormones (estrogen and progestin) as many birth control pills and the patch. But the ring only has to be inserted once a month and it isn’t visible on the body. The most common side effects of the ring are irregular bleeding, breast tenderness, and nausea.

A rare but much more serious side effect of the NuvaRing is the risk of blood clots. This risk is the focus of some recent articles. The hormones in any combined-hormonal method (the pill, patch, and the ring) can make your blood clot more easily. If a blot clot forms in the leg (called deep vein thrombosis or DVT), it can travel to the lungs, which is very serious and can be fatal if not treated.

So what is the risk of using the NuvaRing, relative to other risks? 

Vanity Fair drew their conclusions from just one study and then sensationalized the results. Here at the FPA, we look at many years of diverse studies examining the risk of blood clots with different birth control methods. These give us a much more accurate understanding of relative risk levels.

Out of 10,000 women using the ring, between 8 and 11 will experience a DVT ~ that’s less than 0.1 percent! For women taking combined hormonal birth control pills, the level of risk  is  varied, ranging from 3 to 12 per 10,000 women.

Here’s an important statistic to keep in mind ~ 1 to 5 out of every 10,000 women will experience DVT even if they are not taking any birth control, and between 5 to 20 women out of every 10,000 will experience DVT while pregnant. On birth control or not, the risk is higher among smokers and for those over the age of 35.

Maine’s Family Planning providers are experts in prescribing contraception, and we consult with each patient to determine the most appropriate method for them.  In addition to an individual patient’s needs, risks, preferences, and concerns, we also rely on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)   guidelines to evaluate potential risks.  At this time, the FDA still considers NuvaRing to be safe, and the CDC hasn’t altered its recommendations for who should and should not use the NuvaRing.

No hormonal birth control method is completely risk-free, and it’s important that everyone is educated about the potential risks and benefits of any method they (or their partner) might decide to use. It’s also important to balance any conversation about risk with a healthy dose of science, relative benefits and a bit of context. So while we love to see more coverage of birth control in the media, we are also committed to providing deeper conversations about these issues in our health centers, online forums and in this blog.

Next time you read something about birth control or another reproductive health issue in the popular media, and you’re not sure what to believe, check in with your local family planning health center.  You can trust us to give you the facts without the hype.

~ Jennifer

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