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A therapeutic pessary is a medical device similar to the outer ring of a diaphragm. Therapeutic pessaries are used to support the uterus, vagina, bladder, or rectum. A pessary is most commonly used to treat prolapse of the uterus. It is also used to treat stress urinary incontinence, a retroverted uterus, cystocele and rectocele. Historically, pessaries may have been used to perform abortions.
A pharmaceutical pessary is used as a very effective means of delivery of pharmaceutical substances easily absorbed through the skin of the vagina or rectum, or intended to have action in the locality, for example against inflammation or infection, or on the uterus. Pessaries were used as birth control in ancient times.
The stem pessary, a type of occlusive pessary, was an early form of the cervical cap. Shaped like a dome, it covered the cervix, and a central rod or "stem" entered the uterus through the os, to hold it in place.
Side effects that are shared among most different types of pessaries are risks of increased vaginal discharge, vaginal irritation, ulceration, bleeding, and dyspareunia (painful intercourse for the male or female).