Health officials have warned that certain hormonal birth control pills may increase the risk of pseudotumor cerebri (PTC), a life-threatening disorder that can cause headaches, migraines, and even blindness.
What is Yaz?
Yaz is a birth control pill that contains a combination of two hormones, ethinyl estradiol (estrogen) and drospirenone (progestin). It is manufactured by Bayer and has been on the market in the United States since 2006.
What is Pseudotumor Cerebri?
Pseudotumor cerebri (PTC) is a life-threatening medical disorder that occurs when excessive levels of cerebrospinal fluid put pressure on the brain. PTC is also known as idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) or benign intracranial hypertension (BIH).
Yaz and Pseudotumor Cerebri
Experts have known about he link between PTC and birth control since the 1990s. No one knows what causes PTC, but the National Institute of Health (NIH) warns that certain birth control pills are a risk-factor.
Contraceptive implants containing the hormone levonorgestrel, for example, were associated with 56 cases of PTC and optic disc edema in a study published in 1995. Other case reports have linked PTC to exogenous estrogen, progestin-only implants, and birth control injections. This may explain why PTC is more common in women than men.
The most common side effect in clinical trials of Yaz was migraine headaches, experienced by 6.7% of women, according to the Prescribing Information. Headaches are also one of the most common symptoms of PTC.
Yaz has also been linked to an increased risk of blood clots compared to other birth control pills. The FDA issued several warnings about this risk in 2011 and 2012. In some cases, blood clots in the brain can physically obstruct the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid and increase intracranial pressure, causing a condition known as secondary intracranial hypertension.
Signs & Symptoms
The most common symptoms of PTC include severe headaches, migraines, and progressive vision loss. Visual disturbances occur when there is pressure on the optic nerve (a condition known as papilloedema). After the optic nerve is damaged, there is no cure — patients can suffer permanent double-vision or even blindness.