What Is A Vaginal Ring?

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The vaginal ring is a small soft, plastic ring that you place inside your vagina once a month. It releases a continuous dose of the hormones oestrogen and progestogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. Each ring provides contraception (birth control) for a month, so you do not need to worry about contraception on a daily basis.

The vaginal ring is a convenient and safe method of contraception. Unlike birth control pills, which must be taken daily, this form of birth control only needs to be inserted once a month. When used correctly, the vaginal ring is more than 99% effective.

How Does The Vaginal Ring Work?

The vaginal ring steadily releases the hormones oestrogen and progestogen into your bloodstream. This prevents pregnancy in 3 ways, namely:

  • By blocking ovulation (it prevents the release of an egg from the ovary each month).
  • Thinning the lining of the uterus makes it harder for the fertilised egg to attach to the uterus (implant itself) if conception takes place.
  • By thickening the cervical mucus, which makes it more difficult for sperm to move through the cervix and reach an egg in the uterus (womb).

When To Use The Vaginal Ring

You can start using the vaginal ring at any time during your menstrual cycle if you are not pregnant.

The standard way to use the ring is you leave it in for 21 days, then remove it and have a 7-day ring-free break. You are still protected against pregnancy during the ring-free break. After the 7-day break, you insert a new ring for another 21 days.

You can also choose to have a shorter ring-free break or not to have a break at all. This is as safe and effective as the standard use. For more information on the different options talk to a doctor or nurse.

You will be protected against pregnancy straight away if you insert the ring in the first 5 days of your menstrual cycle. If you start using the ring at any other time in your menstrual cycle, you should use condoms for the first 7 days of using it.

How To Use The Vaginal Ring

Before inserting the vaginal ring, you should thoroughly wash your hands. To fit the ring, you squeeze the ring between your thumb and finger, and then gently insert the tip into your vagina. You then gently push the ring up into your vagina until it feels comfortable. Unlike a diaphragm or cap, the ring does not need to cover your cervix (neck of the womb).

After the ring has been in your vagina for 21 days (3 weeks), you should remove it. This should be on the same day of the week that you put it in. To remove the ring first wash your hands thoroughly. Then put your ring finger into your vagina and hook the edge of the vaginal ring on your finger and gently pull it out.

After you have taken the ring out, you will not insert a new one for 7 days. During this ring-free interval, you might have a period-type bleed. After 7 days have passed you will insert a new ring. Repeat the cycle by leaving the ring in for 21 days.

If the ring comes out on its own, you should rinse it with cool or lukewarm water and put it back in as soon as possible. If the ring is out for less than 48 hours, you should still be protected from pregnancy. You may need emergency contraception if you forgot to put the new ring in on time and the ring-free interval was 48 hours longer than it should have been.

You can have sex and use tampons while the ring is in your vagina. This should not cause you or your partner any discomfort.

What Are The Benefits Of Vaginal Rings?

The vaginal ring is an effective and convenient way to manage your fertility. If used correctly, the vaginal ring is more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. The vaginal ring offers many other benefits, including:

  • It does not interrupt sex (like condoms or a diaphragm would).
  • Each ring provides enough contraception for a month, so you don't have to think about it every day.
  • Unlike the pill, the ring still works if you vomit (get sick) or have diarrhoea.
  • The ring may ease premenstrual symptoms.
  • Bleeding will probably be lighter and less painful.
  • If you do not smoke and have no medical issues that preclude you from using the ring, you can use it until you are 50 years old. 

What Are The Disadvantages Of The Vaginal Ring?

The vaginal ring, like other hormonal birth control methods, may cause temporary side effects such as increased vaginal discharge, breast tenderness, and headaches. Additionally, there are several potential disadvantages to consider. While the ring has a slightly elevated risk of blood clotting compared to non-hormonal methods, occurrences are rare. It does not provide protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Certain medical conditions or histories, such as migraine with aura, blood clots, circulatory problems, high blood pressure, breast cancer, or diabetes, may make the ring unsuitable. Individuals who are overweight or taking specific medications that may interact with the ring, including certain antibiotics, St. John's Wort, or medications for epilepsy, tuberculosis, or HIV, should avoid using it. Lastly, if you are 35 years or older and smoke, the vaginal ring is not recommended.

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