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Women's Health

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Vaginal Ring as Effective as the Pill

Monthly Device Offers New Contraceptive Choice

WebMD Health News

Sept. 5, 2002 -- Women who want an alternative to taking daily birth control pills may find relief in a ring -- a vaginal ring. Research shows a new vaginal ring that delivers a steady dose of the same hormones found in some oral contraceptives is safe, easy to use, and works just as well as the pill.

The FDA approved the device, known as NuvaRing, in October 2001. Now, the results from a large study show that 85% of the women who tried the monthly ring were satisfied with it, and 90% would recommend it to others.

The study, which appears in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, followed more than 2,300 women between the ages of 18-40 for one year.

Researchers found about 85% of the women used the ring correctly. Proper use requires inserting the small, plastic ring directly into the vagina. Once inserted, the ring slowly releases a steady stream of the female hormones estrogen and progestin to stave off conception. After three weeks, the user removes the ring, and menstruation occurs.

Compared to other forms of birth control, such as IUDs, study author Thom O.M. Dieben, MD, of NV Organon in the Netherlands, and colleagues say vaginal rings offer several advantages. For example, the rings do not require a doctor's assistance for insertion or removal.

In addition, because the device delivers hormones directly through the vagina, lower doses of the hormones are necessary than in birth control pills, which can reduce unwanted side effects.

Irregular bleeding or spotting between periods occurred in about 5% of users, and the most common side effects were headache, emotional instability, and weight gain. About a third of the users reported that they could feel the ring during sexual intercourse, but most of the partners did not object to women using the ring.

During the yearlong study, less than 1% of the women got pregnant, and researchers say about half of those were due to improper use of the ring. This rate of pregnancy is similar to that seen with the pill.

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