Birth control pills can cause rare form of stroke

A rare and often under-reported form of stroke involving the veins and not the arteries is more common than previously thought and affects children, young adults and women during pregnancy and the postpartum period, according to a study published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association. This rare type of stroke is known as cerebral venous thrombosis, or CVT, and is caused by a blood clot in the dural venous sinuses, or the veins that drain blood from the brain toward the heart.

The study is the first to provide a comprehensive review of diagnosing, imaging and treating CVT. Researchers found that CVT disproportionately affects pregnant women or women taking birth control pills, as well as people 45 years of age and younger. Oral contraceptives put women at an even greater risk, and researchers recommend that patients with suspected CVT undergo blood tests to determine if they have an inherited or acquired factor in the blood that predisposes them to blood clots.

The safety labels of all birth control pills warn users of a risk for blood clots. However, studies suggest that some birth control pills put users at an even greater risk. Yaz and Yasmin are a type of “fourth generation” birth control pill that combines the hormones ethinyl estradiol and drospirenone. Propelled by pricy marketing campaigns, the pills quickly became the most popular type of oral contraceptive in the country, with many women asking their doctors for the pills by name.

Since the pills were introduced, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received hundreds of reports of women who have been seriously injured while using Yaz and Yasmin. Problems include blood clots, heart attacks, strokes and even gallbladder damage. Bayer HealthCare, makers of Yaz and Yasmin, now face thousands of lawsuits from women claiming they were not adequately warned that using the pills could put their lives in danger.