NuvaRing is a prescription contraceptive device that uses a combination of hormones to prevent pregnancy. Like all contraceptive drugs (and most prescription medications), NuvaRing causes a number of known and potentially harmful side effects that women who are using the product (or thinking about using it) need to understand. This article looks at the potential health risks of NuvaRing use, warnings to patients and doctors about the dangers of NuvaRing, and a recent wave of lawsuits that allege a link between NuvaRing use and harm to patients, including at least two deaths.
What Is NuvaRing?
NuvaRing is a contraceptive device that delivers a low-dose combination of the female hormones progestin and estrogen through a flexible ring that is placed in the vagina. NuvaRing has been on the market since 2002, shortly after its use as a prescription contraceptive was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A number of different pharmaceutical companies have had a hand in the manufacturing and marketing of NuvaRing since its inception, including Merck & Co., Schering-Plough, and Organon BioSciences (a Dutch company with business divisions in the U.S.). NuvaRing is also known by its generic name, the etonogestrel and ethinyl estradiol vaginal ring.
For more information on NuvaRing, including detailed instructions on proper use, precautions on side effects, and contraindications, see the National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine website at http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?id=19242.
NuvaRing Health Risks and Side Effects
Since it first entered the market in 2002, warnings about the risks of NuvaRing have accompanied its labeling and packaging. The greatest health risks for NuvaRing (and the strongest warnings) pertain to the use of NuvaRing by women who are heavy smokers. An FDA-ordered boxed warning on NuvaRing's labeling reads: "Cigarette smoking increases the risk of serious cardiovascular side effects when you use combination oral contraceptives, including NuvaRing. This risk increases even more if you are over age 35 and if you smoke 15 or more cigarettes a day. Women who use combination hormonal contraceptives, like NuvaRing, are strongly advised not to smoke."
The use of NuvaRing is also linked to an increased (though still rare) risk of:
- blood clots in the legs (which can be very dangerous if the clots travel to the lungs)
- clotting in the blood vessels of the eye (which can cause vision problems)
- heart attack
- breast cancer
- gallbladder disease, and
- high blood pressure.
More common (and less serious) side effects of NuvaRing use include vaginal infections, headaches, weight gain, and nausea.
If you're considering using NuvaRing, talk to your doctor about all potential health risks and side effects. And if you're already using NuvaRing and are experiencing any unexpected or adverse health effects, call your doctor right away.
In recent years, a number of lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. against the manufacturers of NuvaRing. These lawsuits, filed by women who have used NuvaRing (and by family members in a few cases), allege that the manufacturers and marketers of NuvaRing did not adequately warn women and their doctors about the dangers associated with NuvaRing -- including the risk of blood clots and other serious side effects -- while at the same time they vigorously promoted its use. Since 2008, at least two lawsuits have alleged a link between NuvaRing and the deaths of women who have used the contraceptive.
In late 2008, a number of federal NuvaRing lawsuits were consolidated into one, under a process known as multidistrict litigation (MDL). The NuvaRing MDL is being handled in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Learn more on the court's official NuvaRing MDL page at www.moed.uscourts.gov/mdl/08-1964.asp. (To learn more about MDL and what happens when lawsuits are consolidated, read Nolo's article Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) for Drug Lawsuits and Other Cases.)
Lawsuits over NuvaRing almost always get filed under a legal theory called "product liability," which holds manufacturers and marketers liable for defects in all kinds of consumer products, including prescription medications. A defect can occur in the design, manufacture, or marketing of a product. (To learn more about product liability claims in drug cases, see Nolo's article Product Liability Claims Involving Pharmaceutical Drugs.)
If you think you have a legal claim related to health problems caused by NuvaRing, remember that the legal and medical issues in cases involving prescription medications are sophisticated and complex. You may want to hire a lawyer who specializes in products liability litigation, especially if you are thinking about joining the existing federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) on NuvaRing safety. To learn more about your options and your legal rights, use Nolo's trusted Lawyer Directory to find and speak with a product liability attorney near you.