Birth control pills and implants have been associated with dozens of cases of idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH), a serious brain injury that can cause headaches, migraines, and blindness. Lawsuits have already been filed by women who accuse some manufacturers of downplaying this risk.
What is Yaz?
Yaz, one of the most popular birth control pills of all time, contains a combination of estrogen (ethinyl estradiol) and progestin (drospirenone). When taken as directed, Yaz is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Yaz and Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH)
Birth control pills are a possible risk-factor for Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH). However, the term “idiopathic” means “of unknown cause,” and there are no studies supporting a causal connection between Yaz and IIH.
Hormones in other birth control pills and implants, such as levonorgestrel, have been linked to dozens of cases of IIH in numerous studies in last few decades. Studies have also found case reports linking IIH with progestin-only implants, exogenous estrogen, and birth control injections.
What is Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH)?
Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) is a rare neurological syndrome characterized by higher-than-normal levels of cerebrospinal fluid.
Normally, cerebrospinal fluid cushions the brain inside the skull and serves as a shock absorber. When there is too much cerebrospinal fluid, it puts pressure on the brain and optic nerve — similar to a growing brain tumor. An older term for IIH was pseudotumor cerebri (PTC).
Studies have linked Yaz and other drospirenone-containing contraceptives with at least a 75% increased risk of blood clots compared to other progestins, such as levonorgestrel. In April 2012, the FDA updated warnings about blood clots on the label for Yaz.
In rare cases, blood clots that form in arteries can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Blood clots in the brain can also physically obstruct the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and increase pressure inside the skull, in a condition known as “secondary intracranial hypertension.”
Symptoms of IIH
- Headaches: In clinical trials of Yaz, headaches occurred in 6.7% of women. Over 90% of people with IIH also develop headaches — typically severe, throbbing, located in the back of the head, worst in the morning, and accompanied by nausea and light-sensitivity.
- Vision loss: IIH can put pressure on the optic nerve and optic disc (“blind spot”), which can decrease the field of vision, cause double-vision, blurry vision, and progressive enlargement of the blind spot. About 5% of people with IIH develop blindness. Once the optic nerve is damaged, vision loss is permanent.
- Hearing problems: Another symptom of IIH is tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
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