Women on hormonal contraceptives have filed lawsuits against manufacturers for failing to warn about the risk of Benign Intracranial Hypertension (BIH). This brain injury may cause chronic migraine headaches and high pressure inside the skull. If treatment is delayed, it can cause blindness.
What is NuvaRing?
NuvaRing is an O-shaped vaginal ring that is inserted into the vagina for up to three weeks, where it prevents pregnancy by slowly releasing hormones. The active ingredients in NuvaRing include estrogen (ethinyl estradiol) and progestin (drospirenone). NuvaRing is sold by Merck and it has been approved in the United States since 2001.
NuvaRing and Benign Intracranial Hypertension (BIH)
There are no studies proving a causal connection between NuvaRing and BIH. However, it is possible that NuvaRing is a risk-factor that could increase a woman’s chances of this disease.
Dozens of cases of BIH were linked to birth control implants in a study published in 1995. More recently, this side effect has also been associated with progestin-only and estrogen contraceptives. Bayer, the manufacturer of the Mirena IUD, is facing a growing number of lawsuits from women who were diagnosed with BIH.
What is BIH?
Benign Intracranial Hypertension (BIH) is a syndrome of unknown cause that results in high pressure inside the skull due to elevated levels of cerebrospinal fluid. Without treatment, it can cause excruciating headaches that become progressively worse and more common. The most severe complication, blindness, occurs when the optic nerve is damaged.
Headaches and NuvaRing
Hormonal birth control is frequently associated with headaches, including migraines. Headaches are also one of the most common side effects of NuvaRing and BIH, although the conditions are not necessarily related. About 11.2% of women on NuvaRing report headaches.
According to a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2012, vaginal ring contraceptives increase a woman’s risk of blood clots 6.5-fold compared to women who do not use hormonal contraceptives.
If these blood clots form in arteries and travel to the brain, they can potentially cause secondary intracranial hypertension. Blood clots can interfere with the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid in and out of the skull, resulting in higher intracranial pressure.
- Chronic headaches or migraines
- Papilledema (swelling of the optic disc)
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Enlargement of the blind spot
- Blurry vision