Women deserve full information about birth control ring

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Cindy Pearson, Executive Director, National Women's Health Network
Fri, December 13, 2013


Twenty three years ago I stood before an FDA committee and asked the FDA and Pharma to give women who wanted to use hormonal contraception more choices than just implants or pills.  When industry actually listened, and developed the contraceptive patch and ring, I felt like the Network’s advocacy was getting results.  When I learned a few years ago that both the patch and the ring expose women to higher doses of hormones than older contraceptive pills, I was disappointed, but not ready to give up on these methods.  The patch and the ring give women the convenience of a long-acting method, without having to sacrifice their control.  What about the higher dose of hormones?  It causes blood clots, no way around it.  And blood clots are serious, even fatal.  The safest pills cause blood clots, too, but the patch and ring are both more risky.  How much more risky?  Roughly about 7 women in every 10,000 develop blood clots without any exposure to hormonal contraceptives – take the safest pills and the rates double to about 14 women in every 10,000.  Women using the patch or the ring might have double again the risk – as many as 28 in every 10,000 women developing blood clots.   These are rare complications – but hormonal contraceptives are used by millions of women, so the risks add up.  Many women will look at those numbers and decide they don’t want to double or quadruple their risk of potentially fatal blood clot.  It’s a safe and sensible choice for women to avoid these contraceptive methods if they feel OK about their other options.  Should these products be taken off the market, so that no woman is exposed to the extra risk?  That’s exactly what a new article in Vanity Fair argues.  We disagree.  We believe that the patch and the ring should be allowed to stay on the market.  We also believe that the FDA should force the manufacturers to be more honest with women about these risks.  The labels need to include the most up-to-date and complete information about the risks associated with the ring (and the patch, too).  The most heartbreaking part of the Vanity Fair article are the accounts of women who never knew that the contraceptive ring was delivered a higher dose of hormones and is slightly more risky than pills.  No clinician should offer women these products without fully disclosing the risks, and encouraging women to try alternative, safer forms of contraception if they haven’t already done so.  The FDA’s control over product label is the best way we’ve got to make sure clinicians, and women themselves, can get reliable information.  So come on, FDA – use your power!  By the way, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned any brand names in this message.  Here are some brand names I want everyone to remember -- and to avoid -- Yaz, Yazmin, Beyaz and Safyral.  These brands of oral contraceptives also raise the risk of blood clots, and unlike the patch and the ring, there’s no extra convenience factor that’s worth the extra risk.  Stay away from these brands!

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