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The Cervical Cap

A cervical cap is a soft rubber cup with a round rim designed to cover the cervix more precisely than the diaphragm (it is thimble-shaped rather than dome-shaped), although it generally works the same way.  It differs from the diaphragm in that it must be fitted to the cervix and is designed to be worn for up to 30 days.  Some caps are designed to allow menstrual blood to flow out without allowing any fluids to flow in.  Like a diaphragm, it must be used with a spermicidal cream or foam.  It must be left in place for at least 48 hours after intercourse. Wearing it for more than 48 hours is not recommended because of the risk, though low, of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Also, with prolonged use of two or more days, the cap may cause an unpleasant vaginal odor or discharge in some women.  Cervical caps are available by prescription only.

The device was not available in North America until 1988 when the FDA approved one type of cap, the Prentif cavity-rim cervical cap for general use.  It has a failure rate of about 17 percent. The cap also has the same side effects and advantages as the diaphragm, except that there's no risk of bladder infections, but there can be some irritation to the cervical lining, due to improper use. About 6 percent of cervical cap candidates will not be able to find one that fits (shorter or longer cervixes are a problem, apparently). Obviously, as with a diaphragm, until you're comfortable using it correctly, use a backup method of birth control.

The only women who shouldn't use the cervical cap are those who have a history of abnormal Pap tests, cervical or vaginal infections, or PID; those who have had a cervical biopsy or cryosurgery within the past six to twelve weeks; those who have an allergic reaction to rubber (plastic caps are also available); and those who have difficulty using it properly.

Click here for more information on birth control.

Created: 10/31/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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