Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Just How Safe is Yaz? Women Need to Know!


The oral contraceptive Yasmin was released in 2001 by the pharmaceutical company Bayer, followed by Yaz in 2006. They differ from other birth control pills in the synthetic progesterone they utilize, drospirenone, which is marketed as less likely to cause weight gain and bloating than other birth control pills. Yaz soon became the most popular birth control pill in the U.S., due in part to a widespread advertising campaign promoting the drug as what the New York Times dubbed “a quality of life treatment,” claiming it could also clear up acne, prevent bloating and ease the depression and anxiety associated with both PMS and the controversial condition of PMDD. It prevents pregnancy at the same rate of effectiveness as all other oral contraceptives.

In 2009, the FDA requested that Bayer distribute a corrective advertisement to counter its aggressively screened commercials that were said to be making misleading assertions about the capabilities of the drug, promoting it for unapproved uses and making light of the more serious health risks (such as blood clots). However, in 2010 the drug remained the second-best-selling Bayer product, bringing in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of January 2012, there are approximately 10,000 lawsuits against Bayer by women who have suffered blood clots and by the families of those women who have died whilst taking Yaz or Yasmin. It is considered the most complained-about drug on the Internet, with thousands of women voicing concerns in online forums and support groups over health issues both physical and emotional. Jane Bennett and Alexandra Pope, authors of The Pill: Are You Sure It’s for You?, characterize many of these problems as “quality-of-life-threatening.” I have written extensively on my own experience with Yasmin in my blog, Sweetening the Pill, and for the UK Independent and have been quoted in Fabulous magazine the Washington Post.

Two studies conducted with funding from Bayer revealed that Yaz and Yasmin held no higher risk of blood clots than other birth control pills. However, last month it was revealed that five other studies undertaken independent of Bayer suggested a 50-to-75 percent increased risk of clots for those taking these birth control pills in comparison to others. A former FDA commissioner, David Kessler, charged that Bayer deliberately withheld data about this early on in order to push through the drugs’ approvals. In response, the FDA called an advisory committee to evaluate the safety of birth control pills containing drospirenone. The decision had the potential to cause the drugs to be pulled off the market, but the panel voted by a four-person margin that the drugs’ benefit outweighed the risks.

Yet a government watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), conducted an independent investigation that revealed three of the advisors on the FDA panel had research or other financial ties to Bayer. A fourth advisor was connected to manufacturing the generic version of these pills. All four voted for Yaz and Yasmin to continue to be prescribed by doctors. POGO asked the FDA that a new advisory committee be brought together to make another assessment.

Should these developments impact women’s perspective on the birth control pill? Should we consider that use of the Pill for pregnancy prevention, let alone acne or PMS, is still today, as women’s health activist Barbara Seaman wrote in her 1969 book The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill, “like tinkering with nuclear bombs to fight off the common cold”?

Says Ms. blogger Elizabeth Kissling, professor of communication and women’s and gender studies at Eastern Washington University and past president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research:
I’m surprised there has not been a broader call for more research, or wider public discussions of the risks of this pill. When a drug company is withholding data and 10,000 lawsuits are pending, more than research is needed. I can’t help but wonder why we’re not seeing Congressional hearings–akin to the 1970 Nelson Pill Hearings–again, and more of an outcry from both physicians and patients.
Much of the media coverage of these recent developments and research was quick to assert the unimportance of women’s concerns. It was repeatedly reported that, when compared to the risk of blood clot development associated with pregnancy, the risk produced by taking any oral contraceptive–including Yasmin or Yaz–is of little concern. This is misleading in that it suggests there are only two states in which young women can choose to live: on birth control pills or pregnant. The fear has been voiced that any discussion of the negative impact of the Pill will prompt women to come off of it and fall unintentionally pregnant. No coverage that this writer has read discussed a comparison with non-hormonal contraceptive alternatives–which, of course, hold no increased risk of blood clots. Some of these alternatives are just as effective in preventing pregnancy as oral contraceptives, and others are more so.

According to Laura Wershler, veteran pro-choice sexual and reproductive health advocate and board director of the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health,
We need to reframe the idea that hormonal birth control is the gold standard of contraception. If women are quitting the Pill, and they have every right to do so, and they are not using alternative methods of birth control effectively, that’s proof positive that what we are teaching about contraception is incomplete and ineffective. If we make the Pill the ‘right’ choice, then why should we be upset when women stop taking it and get pregnant?
It is often claimed within news stories that the Pill “regulates” a woman’s menstrual cycle, when it, in fact, stops and replaces the cycle. All of this propaganda for the Pill is extremely misleading, and it further breeds a lack of confidence to know that Bayer paid women’s magazines to advocate for Yaz. Such actions blind women to their choices and to understanding how their bodies work. There is much research that supports the health benefits of consistent (typically monthly) ovulation, which can be found through the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research.

The absence of education in body literacy is a major factor in unwanted pregnancies. However, this lack of education is beneficial to some: It helps sustain the billion-dollar profits of pharmaceutical companies.

Friday, May 4, 2012

I thought it was just me...

She told me I was making a very adult decision by sticking with birth control pills after she had pointed out that it was 99% safe. She wasn’t concerned about any side effects – as the worst thing that could happen to me was that 1% chance of getting pregnant. I trusted her, I trusted my OBYGYN. 

I had been taking different types of birth control pills for four years up until that point. But since nothing had really worked for me as I was having heavy bleedings in-between periods on every pill I had tried I was told that Yasmin was the new and great pill. I was told it was so good and safe that I had to go with it. There were really no other options left for me in the way my gynecologist was speaking to me. You would have thought that she could have recommended me to use any of the non-hormonal options that are available but that was not even discussed. At that point however, I did feel hopeful; a new and improved pill... 

That new and improved pill, Yasmin, soon became the one and only reason I visited doctors with all sort of specialties, only I didn’t realize it. I did not understand that it was all linked to the pill, how could I when it had nothing to do with my cycles or uterus?!  My bleedings had become a little bit better so in my mind this new and wonderful pill was truly much better than the rest! And no doctor even raised an eye brow when I told them I was on Yasmin either so it never even occurred to me. 

Unfortunately the real truth was that I had started to have heart palpitations, insomnia, my hair was falling out, I developed allergies, was having headaches more often than not, and became extremely depressed and sensitive. But at the same time I was also very busy with college and I blamed it all on school. I used to lay awake all night listening to my heart beat and was so afraid of falling asleep in case I would not wake up. When the morning came I used to open my dorm room door wide open and fall asleep so that in case I didn’t wake up, someone would find me.  

Every time I went for an EKG my heart beat was ok, go figure, so instead of being a patient that needed help I soon became a hypochondriac in the eyes of the doctors and my complaints were ignored. I never knew what to do about my insomnia besides for let myself fall asleep whenever I could, which wasn’t long or often but it was the best I could do. The depression and sensitiveness grew on me and I didn’t realize it – I thought it was just the new, more adult, and mature me. 

Then the bleeding came back full force. I was bleeding more than I wasn’t in every cycle. Having a relationship was hard and embarrassing for me as I felt extremely dirty all the time. I went back to my gynecologist who sent me to a specialist and after doing the examination he found nothing wrong with me but prescribed me two different antibiotics just in case and before leaving the room the specialist looked at me and said: “your bleeding are probably caused by you being depressed, go and do something fun”. 

I felt so worthless after that point and was embarrassed of being me. I started to shut down. I would not tell anyone how I was feeling even though more and more symptoms grew on me. But still I had no idea that it was related to Yasmin, in my mind it was all just me; something that was pretty much verified by the doctors I had been seeing… So I kept taking Yasmin for another five years and became a person that was more or less a shell of the old me... 

~ Helena, Sweden
Used Synthetic hormones for 11 years, 6 years on Yasmin
Hormone free since October 2009 :)

To contribute to this blog send an email to Yasmin and Yaz Blog - MyStory