A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot that forms in the lower body travels to the heart, is pumped into the lungs, and cuts off the supply of blood to delicate lung tissue.
Yaz birth control is a medication that was approved by the FDA in 2006 to prevent pregnancy, reduce mild acne, and treat symptoms of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Yaz is sold by the drug company Bayer. Each “active” Yaz pill contains a combination of two synthetic hormones. Drospirenone is synthetic progestin. Ethinyl estradiol is synthetic estrogen.
If you have used Yaz birth control pills, you may have recently heard that the FDA decided to update the label on Yaz. The problem is with drospirenone. Since drospirenone was first used in birth control beginning in 2001, there have been an alarming number of women who have suffered DVT, blood clots, and pulmonary embolisms. In the last decade, several studies have found that drospirenone increases a woman’s risk of developing a blood clot more than other birth control pills. However, it was not until the FDA conducted its own study that the agency decided to update the labels.
The FDA funded a study that involved 800,000 women who were taking a combination hormonal birth control pill. In the end, researchers discovered that the women who were taking drospirenone were three times more likely to develop a blood clot. The study was concluded in November 2011. In April 2012, the FDA announced that they would update the warning labels on all birth control pills containing drospirenone.
Yaz and Pulmonary Embolisms
The heart is responsible for pumping used, oxygen-poor blood from the body into the lungs, where it receives oxygen. If there is a blood clot, the heart may pump this clot into the lungs. Blood clots typically form in the lower legs, in a condition called deep vein thrombosis or DVT. A pulmonary embolism occurs when these blood clots break away from the vein wall, travel to the heart, and are pumped into the lungs. When this occurs, the entire condition is called a venous thromboembolism (VTE).
Pulmonary embolisms occur in approximately 250,000-2 million people in the United States every year. Oral contraceptives are a major risk factor contributing to this number. All birth control pills that contain progestin (including Yaz) increase a woman’s risk of a blood clot and pulmonary embolisms. Unfortunately, Yaz contains a type of progestin called drospirenone, which many studies have linked to a higher risk of blood clots than other progestins.
Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism
Because DVT usually precedes a pulmonary embolism, women who take hormonal contraceptives should recognize these warnings signs: leg swelling, pain, and discoloration become more and more uncomfortable over the course of several hours or days. DVT can also occur in the upper leg, pelvis, upper arm, or other part of the body. Any time DVT or a pulmonary embolism are suspected, this is a life-threatening emergency. Sometimes, people delay seeking treatment because the initial symptoms of a pulmonary embolism are often mild. Around 30% of untreated pulmonary embolisms are fatal.
Once a blood clot travels to the lungs, the patient has developed a pulmonary embolism. Symptoms may include:
- Feeling of general unease, anxiety
- Unexplainable shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort that becomes worse with coughing
- Changes in consciousness, light-headedness, blacking out
Treatment of a Yaz Pulmonary Embolism
A pulmonary embolism is usually diagnosed using blood tests, CT scans, and lung scans to look for signs of decreased blood flow to parts of the lungs. When a pulmonary embolism is diagnosed, it is typically managed with a combination of two anticoagulant medications: heparin and warfarin. These two medications help reduce the risk that more blood clots will make it to the lungs. Combined therapy may take several days to become effective. If anticoagulation therapy fails and the patient has a high risk of future pulmonary embolisms, an intravenous filter may be implanted in the inferior vena cava to prevent blood clots from reaching the lungs.