Specifically, some newer birth control pills have been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and gallbladder disease. These side effects, however, are reportedly not seen in older contraceptives. And while a risk of heart attack or stroke might be acceptable in a drug that is saving lives or preventing potentially worse illnesses, in some cases, birth control is prescribed off-label, to combat acne or other conditions that are not life-threatening.
In some cases, women have undergone surgery to remove their gallbladder, allegedly linked to their use of certain types of birth control. Conditions such as heart attack and stroke are not normally associated with healthy, young women, which is what concerns some critics of the US Food and Drug Administration who, they say, should have taken certain birth control off the market.
In 2002, Public Citizen, the public advocacy group, issued its concerns about Yasmin (a combination of ethinyl estradiol as the estrogen and drospirenone as the progestin). At the time, Public Citizen gave two reasons for including Yasmin on its list of “Do Not Use” drugs. The first reason was that drospirenone can cause elevated levels of potassium in the blood, which can cause serious heart problems.
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Second, “there is no evidence that Yasmin is superior in any way to older contraceptive products,” Public Citizen noted. “There is no medical reason that you should be using Yasmin rather than one of the older pills containing the progestins norgestrel, levonorgestrel or norethindrone,” the report concluded.
Despite Public Citizens warnings, the FDA has not removed Yasmin from the market. It held an advisory committee meeting to discuss the matter but the committee recommended keeping Yasmin and similar birth control products on the market. Lawsuits have been filed against Bayer, maker of Yasmin, alleging women suffered heart attacks, strokes and other serious health problems after using Yasmin. Bayer has settled some of those lawsuits.