Lawsuits have already been filed by women who used birth control and developed Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH). This disease can cause high pressure inside the skull, migraine headaches, blindness, and need surgical treatment
What is NuvaRing?
NuvaRing is an O-shaped contraceptive device that prevents pregnancy with a combination of hormones, including etonogestrel (progestin) and ethinyl estradiol (estrogen). It is manufactured by Merck & Co. and it was approved by the FDA in October 2001.
What is Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH)?
Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) is a disease that occurs when there is too much cerebrospinal fluid inside the skull. Normally, this fluid protects the brain and acts as a shock-absorber. IIH puts pressure on the brain and optic nerve, which can lead to blindness.
NuvaRing and IIH
Experts do not know if NuvaRing causes IIH. The term “idiopathic” means that researchers are still trying to discover what causes the disease. Obese women of childbearing age are most likely to develop IIH. Another risk-factor is the use of birth control.
Birth Control and IIH
In 1995, a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine linked 56 cases of IIH with Norplant, a subcutaneous birth control implant that contains levonorgestrel. Other types of birth control have also been associated with IIH, including exogenous estrogen and birth control shots containing progestin.
In clinical trials, headaches (including migraines) were reported in 11.2% of women on NuvaRing. Headaches are also the most common symptom of IIH, but it is not clear that the conditions are related. Headaches from IIH tend to be dull, located at the back of the head, and worst in the morning. Without treatment, they can become extremely painful and frequent.
About 5% of people with IIH develop blindness. The complication occurs when the optic nerve is permanently damaged. Some people also develop papilledema, a complication that involves swelling of the optic disc (blind spot) at the back of the eye. Other complications include double-vision (diplopia), blurry vision, and light-sensitivity.
In 2012, the British Medical Journal published a study linking the use of NuvaRing with a 6.5-fold increased risk of blood clots compared to non-users of hormonal contraceptives. Compared to women who used hormonal birth control pills containing levonorgestrel, women on NuvaRing were almost twice as likely to have a blood clot.
Unfortunately, blood clots that form in arteries can potentially travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Blood clots in the brain can also cause secondary intracranial hypertension a serious disease that occurs when blood clots physically obstruct the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Like IIH, secondary intracranial hypertension causes high pressure inside the skull.