Ocella is a hormonal contraceptive, and the generic version of Yasmin. A life-threatening side effect of Ocella is hyperkalemia, which occurs when levels of potassium are too high in the bloodstream. When potassium levels are very high, they can interfere with the heart’s electrical activity, causing a severe irregular heartbeat.
Ocella and Hyperkalemia
Ocella is a generic medication whose brand-name equivalent is Yasmin birth control. Ocella and Yasmin are both “fourth generation” contraceptives, which means that they belong to a new class of drugs containing drospirenone, a new synthetic hormone. Unfortunately, one of the severe side effects of hormonal contraceptives is the risk of hyperkalemia. Even more troubling is the fact that many women were unaware of this side effect before taking Ocella. This is because the initial ads for drospirenone birth control pills failed to warn women about the risks of life-threatening side effects.
What is Hyperkalemia?
Hyperkalemia occurs when the intracellular and extracellular levels of potassium are out of balance. In a healthy person, 98% of the potassium is intracellular, and 2% of extracellular (circulating throughout the body in the bloodstream). The hormones in Ocella and other hormonal contraceptives disrupt this balance, causing higher levels of potassium in the bloodstream.
Although potassium is an essential nutrient, too much potassium in the blood can have severely negative physiological consequences. The most serious problem is that it can interfere with the heart’s normal electrical signals. In mild cases, this causes heart palpitations. In severe cases, it suddenly causes irregularities in the heart rhythm that cause congestive heart failure. When this occurs, the heart is ineffective at pumping blood, and the entire body becomes starved of oxygen. Without immediate treatment to restore normal heart rhythm, a person can suffer cardiac arrest and death.
Signs & Symptoms of Ocella Hyperkalemia
There may be no symptoms of Ocella hyperkalemia. If Ocella hyperkalemia does produce symptoms, these may include:
- Slow, weak, or irregular pulse
- Sudden collapse
- Changes in consciousness — feeling faint, dizzy, weak, etc.
- Slow heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Tingling, numbness, or other unusual feelings
Treatment & Prognosis
For doctors, one of the frustrating aspects of hyperkalemia is that is lacks telltale symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose. Furthermore, the women who develop Ocella hyperkalemia may not realize they have the condition, because it doesn’t always produce symptoms right away. In fact, many women delay seeking treatment until it is causing abnormal heart rhythm or heart palpitations. By the time hyperkalemia is affecting the heart, treatment is more difficult and prognosis is worse.
The goal of treatment will be to reduce the amount of potassium in the bloodstream, while also monitoring for signs of a severely irregular heartbeat. Medications may include insulin, calcium, and bicarbonate. The insulin triggers cells to absorb more potassium from the bloodstream. The other medications trigger the kidneys and the gastrointestinal system to absorb potassium and remove it from the body. A machine called an ECG monitors heart rhythm, and it will also warn doctors when the heart is beating irregularly.