An estrogen ring refers to products like the brand-name Estring®, which are frequently used to treat symptoms that arise for women after menopause, or during the menopausal years. They are small vaginal inserts that are typically made of rubber, and in the majority of cases, are not felt while they are in the vagina. They are worn for about three months. While in the body, the estrogen ring releases estrogen or estradiol, which can help minimize some menopausal symptoms.
A few conditions that might be treated by the estrogen ring include persistent vaginal dryness or burning sensations in the vagina. Vaginal itching due to dryness and lack of lubrication might be another reason to consider an estrogen ring. Sometimes urinary conditions are also addressed with these rings, including those where urinating causes a burning sensation, or where urgency or “need to urinate” is frequent.
Since the estrogen ring is used most often in the post-menopausal population, it’s important to view this as another form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). While once HRT was endorsed as a means to tolerate fewer post-menopause symptoms, a number of studies suggest it’s necessary to employ great caution with this therapy. Hormone replacement therapy has been linked to increases in breast and reproductive system cancer, and greater risk of cardiac events including stroke and pre-conditions of stroke like deep vein thrombosis. Such risks, especially the last two, may be increased in women who smoke.
There are other side effects of the estrogen ring that are less serious but should be considered. These include stomach upset, increased incidence of yeast and/or bacterial infection, tenderness in the breasts, greater production of vaginal discharge, difficulty sleeping, and back and head pain. In studies, the side effect reported most often was headache.
Estrogen rings can take some getting used to. For example, straining during bowel movements may push the ring forward, and women may need to feel comfortable checking its location and pushing it farther back into the vagina.
Like many medications, estradiol in any form is not recommended for use when certain other conditions are present. Women shouldn’t use the estrogen ring if they’ve had or have reproductive cancer, if they have cardiovascular disease, or if they’re prone to high calcium levels. Those who are pregnant, nursing or experiencing abnormal uterine bleeding are advised not to use this product. All medical conditions and any medications currently being taken should be discussed with a doctor when weighing the ring’s benefits.
On the plus side, many women find estrogen rings much easier to use than estradiol creams. The ring is not messy, and most women do not feel it once it is inserted. It’s also easy to remove if any problems occur.