When women decide to use birth control to prevent pregnancy or to manage symptoms of a medical condition, they know there are risks involved. However, they rarely consider those risks to be chronic, irreversible, or life-altering. Unfortunately, women who have chosen the Essure system have found out the hard way the risks can be severe.
The Essure system is a permanent form of birth control that has been on the market since 2002. The system is inserted through the vagina and features two coils made of fiber and metal that are placed inside of the fallopian tubes. This causes scar tissue to form around the coils, creating a blockage and preventing egg and sperm from ever meeting. Women choose Essure because it is considered extremely effective, and it eliminates the need to use less convenient forms of contraception, requires no incision, and should have no effect on the menstrual cycle.
Essure offers many of the benefits of traditional tubal ligation, but does not require surgery. It requires no anesthesia and can be inserted in a doctor’s office, instead of a hospital. For most, normal activity is possible within a day or two of insertion.
As with all forms of birth control, Essure users face risks. These include pelvic pain, infection, tubal blockage on only one side of the uterus, and perforation of the uterus or fallopian tubes. Essure also eliminates candidacy for endometrial ablation. Immediately following Essure system insertion, women often experience abdominal pain, bleeding, cramping, dizziness, and nausea.
Though the Essure system is considered a permanent form of birth control and is only intended for women who never wish to conceive again, pregnancy does occur in about one out of every 100 cases. Typically, this results in an ectopic pregnancy that develops inside of the fallopian tube. It should be noted the risk for ectopic pregnancy with Essure than it is with the general population.
Weighing the Risk with the Reward
Despite the benefits of using Essure and what it does to reduce the risks associated with surgical tubal ligation, many women are experiencing serious side effects from the system that are similar or worse than what they were trying to avoid.
According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, the US Food and Drug Administration reported nearly 1000 adverse events related to Essure, about half of which were reported in 2013. Women are experiencing pain, headaches, hemorrhaging, weight fluctuation, menstrual irregularities, and device migration. There have also been several instances of possible allergic reactions to nickel. In some cases, a hysterectomy was required to remove the device and put an end to the side effects.
As a result of an escalation in complaints about Essure, the FDA carried out another review of the safety guidelines, but found no definitive evidence the side effects were caused by Essure. Despite the lack of findings, Bayer, the manufacturer of Essure, plans to revise patient educational materials to include information about the risk for coils traveling from the fallopian tubes to the lower abdomen. It will also include chronic pain as a side effect.
The health problems caused by Essure have prompted some in the medical community to call for additional studies, especially pertaining to the long-term risks associated with the system.