Lawsuits are currently being filed by women who used certain types of birth control and developed pseudotumor cerebri (PTC). This rare but serious medical condition can cause chronic headaches and blindness. Some people need surgery to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid and relieve pressure in their skull.
What is NuvaRing?
NuvaRing is an O-shaped vaginal ring that is used to prevent pregnancy. Once inserted into the vagina, NuvaRing slowly releases the hormones ethinyl estradiol (estrogen) and etonogestrel (progestin). NuvaRing has been approved in the U.S. since 2001.
NuvaRing and Pseudotumor Cerebri (PTC)
Studies have not shown a causal connection between NuvaRing and PTC. However, experts know that birth control is a risk-factor for PTC. In 1995, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found 56 cases of PTC associated with a birth control implant containing levonorgestrel. Birth control shots and exogenous estrogen have also been linked to case reports of PTC.
What is Pseudotumor Cerebri?
Pseudotumor Cerebri (PTC) is an older name for Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH), which means “high pressure inside the skull for an unknown reason.” PTC occurs when excess cerebrospinal fluid increases pressure inside the skull, causing brain injury.
PTC can also potentially cause nerve damage that can lead to blindness. About 5% of people with PTC develop blindness. Symptoms may resemble a growing brain tumor. Over 90% of people develop headaches, and over 60% develop vision problems (double-vision, blurry vision, light-sensitivity, etc.).
The Prescribing Information for NuvaRing warns that 11.2% of women reported headaches, including migraines, during clinical trials. Over 90% of women who have PTC also suffer from headaches. Although it is not clear that the conditions are related, the symptoms may be similar.
Blood Clots and Secondary Intracranial Hypertension
All hormonal contraceptives increase a woman’s risk of developing blood clots, but NuvaRing was associated with even higher risks in a study published by the British Medical Journal in 2012. Researchers found that women on NuvaRing were twice as likely to develop a blood clot as women on birth control pills containing levonorgestrel. They were 6.5-times more likely to develop blood clots than women who did not use hormonal contraception.
The problem with blood clots is that they can cause secondary intracranial hypertension, a complication that is similar to PTC. This complication occurs when blood clots physically obstruct the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which increases pressure inside the skull.