The Vaginal Ring: An Alternative to Birth Control Pills
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The Vaginal Ring: An Alternative to Birth Control Pills

In October of 2001, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaginal ring for use as a contraceptive device, making it available for women to use in the United States. The vaginal ring is a thin, colorless, flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina for three weeks and is then removed for one week while the woman has her period. Low doses of estrogen and progestin are continuously released from the ring, which is replaced monthly. Like birth control pills, the vaginal ring is 98% to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, though it’s effectiveness decreases if used improperly.

The Advantages

Advantages of the ring include:

  • Only needs to be changed once a month
  • Is easy to insert and remove
  • Does not require a visit to the doctor for insertion or removal
  • Does not interrupt sexual activity
  • Does not cause spotting or irregular bleeding because of the low and steady doses of hormones

The Disadvantages

Disadvantages of the ring include:

  • Does not protect against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS
  • Requires a prescription
  • Has similar side effects to the birth control pill including:
    • Vaginal infections and irritation
    • Weight gain
    • Headaches
    • Discharge
    • Nausea
    • Increased risk of severe cardiovascular side effects in women who smoke


Certain drugs, such as antibiotics, antiseizure drugs, tuberculosis (TB) medications, and migraine medications can affect the effectiveness of the vaginal ring. The herb St. John's Wort can also interfere with effectiveness of this ring. Talk to your doctor about all of the medications and supplements you are taking.

If any of the following symptoms occur while you’re wearing the vaginal ring, contact your doctor immediately:

  • Severe abdominal pain or headaches
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Blurred vision
  • Severe leg or arm pain or numbness

Do not use the vaginal ring if you might be pregnant or are breast-feeding. It is also not recommended for women with the following health concerns:

Other Things You Should Know About Vaginal Rings


The ring should be stored at room temperature (no more than 77 degrees Fahrenheit) and away from direct sunlight.

Taking the Ring Out:

If the ring slips out of the vagina, simply wash it off with cold to lukewarm water (not hot) and reinsert it. The ring can be taken out during sex as long as it is not out for more than three hours, in which case a back up method of birth control should be used for seven days.


The ring costs about $35 to $40 at the drugstore.

Switching From Other Forms of Birth Control:

You can switch directly to a vaginal ring from other hormonal methods of birth control. Talk to your doctor for details.


National Women's Health Information Center

US Food and Drug Administration


The Canadian Women's Health Network

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Available at:

Planned Parenthood. Available at:

Last reviewed May 2008 by Jeff Andrews, MD, FRCSC, FACOG

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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