Health // September 3, 2014

If you are sexually active at all, chances are you are taking birth control. The tricky part is that it’s not always clear which ones are safe and which ones can harm you. The popular birth control pill Yasmin made headlines once again when a young woman in the US suffered a stroke within 13 days of beginning treatment with Yasmin. According to her lawsuit, the prescribing physician failed to take into account her increased risk of stroke, a potential consequence for taking Yasmin. She ended up receiving a $14 million settlement. The case sparked a new controversy over the safety of contraceptive pills that contain drospirenone, a progestin associated with an increased risk of thrombosis, blood clots and stroke. The debate is leaving women who are currently taking the pill confused and worried - is it safe to continue taking Yasmin or should they switch?

There are pros and cons to the pills Yasmin and Yaz. A pro would be that both pills contain the progestin drospirenone, have been found to reduce unwanted side effects such as weight gain commonly experienced with contraceptive pills. However a con would be that they have also been found to increase the risk of thrombosis and stroke to a larger extent than contraceptive pills which contain a different progesterone, such as the commonly used levonorgestrel.

To put this into perspective, a woman’s risk of suffering thrombosis while taking a contraceptive pill - including Yasmin - is still lower than during pregnancy or the weeks after giving birth. According to MHRA data, thrombosis affects one in 10000 women who are not pregnant and not taking a contraceptive pill, as opposed to 6 in 10000 women who are pregnant. For women who are in good health and are using Yasmin, this risk increases to an estimated 3 - 4 cases in 10000 each year.

While this increase in your risk for thrombosis seems relatively small, it is important to consider this when choosing a contraceptive. For women with an increased risk of thrombosis, Yasmin is not the best option. However, if there is a family history of stroke or blood clots, combined contraceptives of any kind must generally be avoided. This caution  also goes for women who smoke or who are very overweight. The risk of thrombosis is known to increase with age, which is why combined contraceptives are not recommended for women who smoke and are over 35. It is important to have a consultation with a doctor before taking any hormonal contraceptive pill to assess possible risks and side effects. In some cases, women with a slightly increased risk of thrombosis can still use a contraceptive pill, provided they choose a progestin-only mini pill.

Be it Yasmin or any other contraceptive pill, choose the method that is a suitable for you according to your general health and family history.  The MHRA states that there is currently “no reason” for women who are not at risk for health concerns to stop taking Yasmin or change their birth control medication. However, if you are still worried about thrombosis you could switch to a combined pill which contains levonorgestrel, the progestin assumed to cause the least significant increase in your risk of thrombosis.

Published in Health