Lawsuits have been filed by women who used hormonal birth control and developed Benign Intracranial Hypertension (BIH). Although health experts warn that birth control may be a risk-factor for BIH, lawsuits accuse drug-makers of downplaying information about this side effect. Unfortunately, delayed diagnosis increases the risk of complications like blindness and migraine headaches.
What is Nexplanon?
Nexplanon (a newer version of Implanon) is a type of hormonal birth control implant that is sold by Merck & Co. It is approved by the FDA to prevent pregnancy for up to three years. Nexplanon works by releasing tiny amounts of etonogestrel, a synthetic version of the hormone progestin.
Nexplanon and Benign Intracranial Hypertension
No one knows if Nexplanon causes Benign Intracranial Hypertension (BIH), but experts do know that the condition is not “benign” (harmless). Intracranial hypertension means “high pressure inside the skull.” This condition is caused by elevated levels of cerebrospinal fluid.
BIH can cause severe migraine headaches because it puts pressure on the brain. The most serious complication is blindness, which occurs because the optic nerve is damaged. Less serious vision problems include decreased peripheral vision, papilledema (swelling of the optic disc), blind spot enlargement, blurry vision, and double-vision, which are reported by about 90% of patients.
What is the problem?
Nexplanon is very similar to Norplanon, a subcutaneous birth control implant that contains levonorgestrel. In 1995, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine identified 56 cases of BIH in women on Norplanon.
Other types of birth control have also been associated with BIH. In recent years, a number of lawsuits have been filed by women who accuse drug-makers of downplaying risk information linking birth control implants, such as Mirena, with this side effect.
Nexplanon and Headaches
Headaches are a common side effect of birth control, and clinical trial data suggests that 25% of women on Nexplanon will develop headaches or migraines. Headaches are also a sign of BIH, although the two conditions are not necessary related. Even so, women on Nexplanon who have severe headaches should have a medical evaluation.
All hormonal contraceptives increase the risk of blood clots, but some have higher risks than others. In 2012, researchers found a 40% increased risk of blood clots associated with subcutaneous birth control implants. Blood clots in the brain can potentially cause secondary intracranial hypertension by blocking the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the skull.