Health benefits and risks of the ring

To decide if the ring is right for you, there are different health benefits and risks to think about. It can reduce your risk of some cancers but can increase your risk of blot clots (thrombosis) and breast cancer.

Health benefits

Improve or reduce acne

While the oestrogen in the ring can reduce the oil production of your skin cells, the progestogen can increase oil production. These changes can affect your skin, particularly if you have acne.

Reduce heavy periods

The hormones in the vaginal ring stop the lining of your womb (uterus) from building up as it would naturally. When you have a bleed on the ring, you’ll have less blood and less womb lining to come out, so you’ll have reduced bleeding compared to your usual periods.

Reduce pain from endometriosis

In the same way as the vaginal ring reduces the bleeding from your womb, it also reduces bleeding associated with endometriosis and the build-up of cells outside the womb.

If you have endometriosis, the vaginal ring should help make bleeds shorter and lighter and reduce the pain you experience.

Reduce effects of polycystic ovary syndrome

The oestrogen in the ring can help balance the levels of androgens, which means it can reduce or stop some symptoms of PCOS, including:

  • making skin less oily

  • reducing hair loss on the head 

  • reducing hair growth on other areas of the body

Lower the risk of ovarian, endometrial and colon cancer

The combined pill contains very similar hormones to the vaginal ring. Studies that show the effects of the combined pill are also likely to be similar to the effects of the vaginal ring.

A review of 36 international studies on the combined pill showed that:

  • using the combined pill or vaginal ring for 10–15 years reduces the risk of cancer of the lining of the uterus by 50%

  • this benefit may continue for up to 30 years after stopping the combined pill or vaginal ring

  • using the combined pill or ring reduces the risk of cancer of the colon and rectum by 19%

Health risks

The ring is a safe and effective method of contraception, but there are also some possible risks. 

Before being given the vaginal ring, your GP or health professional will ask you some questions about your medical history and family. This is so they can be sure the ring is safe for you to use.

Thrombosis (blood clots) of the leg or lung

The risk of thrombosis in the leg or lung of a healthy young person is low – about 2 in 10,000 people a year experience this. 

If you use the ring, your risk of thrombosis in the leg or lung increases slightly up to 5–12 in 10,000 people a year. 

The risk of thrombosis is also affected by age, whether you smoke, and your family history. 

So the ring isn’t recommended for people who:

  • are over 35 and who also smoke

  • have a family history of thrombosis under the age of 45

  • have a BMI over 35

Long flights increase this risk

The risk of thrombosis increases in situations where you have limited mobility, which means not being able to move easily, such as on a plane or long journey.

If you’re using the ring and taking a long-distance flight of more than 8 hours, try to make sure that you get up and walk around regularly during the flight.

High altitudes also increase the risk

The risk of thrombosis also increases if you’re trekking to high altitudes (over 4,500m) for more than 1 week.

To cope with the low oxygen levels at high altitudes, your body produces extra red blood cells, which can increase your risk of thrombosis.

Consider changing your method of contraception if you’re going to be at a high altitude for longer than a week.

Surgery can increase this risk

If you’re having surgery that means you’ll be in bed and have limited movement for a few days, then you should discuss with your surgeon whether you should stop using the ring before your operation.

Heart disease

The vaginal ring increases blood pressure by about 5%. Increased blood pressure means there’s a higher chance of heart disease. You’ll be advised against using the vaginal ring if you have risks of heart disease, including:

  • high blood pressure

  • a BMI over 30

  • if you’re over 35 and a smoker

Breast cancer

As the ring uses the same hormones as the combined pill, we’d expect it to affect the body in the same way. 

The pill slightly increases your risk of breast cancer while you’re taking it, and for up to 5 years after you stop taking it. So it’s likely the ring does too.

This is because the hormones in it may encourage some cells to multiply more than normal. 

The risk is small and the research into the pill shows it causes about 14 extra cases of breast cancer in every 10,000 people who take it. 

To put this in context:

  • in people who do not use the pill – about 40 in every 10,000 will probably develop breast cancer between 30 and 39  

  • in people who do use the pill – about 54 in every 10,000 will develop breast cancer between the ages of 30 and 39

We’d expect the same effect from the ring.

Should you use the ring if you have a family history of breast cancer?

If you have a family history of breast cancer, you already have a higher risk of breast cancer than the general population, but it’s not clear if the ring adds to this. Unless you have a very strong family history of breast cancer, the benefits of hormonal contraception often outweigh the risks.

Your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of the ring with you, based on your personal family history.

Cervical cancer

The combined pill, and probably the vaginal ring because it uses the same hormones, slightly increase your risk of cervical cancer while you’re taking it and for up to 5 years after you stop taking it.

Everything you wanted to know about sexual health and wellbeing - your questions answered by our expert team.