Two years ago, I spoke with my doctor about switching to Yaz. At the time, Yaz was hailed as the latest advancement in women’s health. Not only did it provide a very effective method of birth control, Yaz also promised to relieve symptoms of PMMD, a more severe form of PMS. I was diagnosed with PMMD over ten years ago, actually before the disorder had a name. I was very excited about the promises of Yaz and, after the first few months, decided to write a review. You can read that original review here.
Even though I was over 40, my doctor and I felt that my good general health made me a good candidate for Yaz. And I was thrilled. No more heavy periods. No migraines and bloating. No fatigue and irritability. No wonder Yaz became the best-selling birth control in less than 12 months after its introduction. According to IMS Health, an independent health care information company, Yaz controlled an 18 percent market share and brought in $616 million during 2007.
Looking back now, I’m reminded of a piece of wisdom often shared by my father: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
I have no life-and-death tales or dramatic emergency room visits caused by Yaz. Instead, I have two years of experience and more research on what was then a relatively new product.
Yaz was introduced to the American public in a series of fun commercials that showed young, pretty females enjoying a girls night out. The subject of contraceptives comes up and one of the girls (later “revealed” to be a doctor) begins singing the praises of Yaz. Instead of spending the night home suffering from their periods and PMMD, these girls are able to enjoy a night on the town – thanks to Yaz. You may also remember the commercials where women used martial arts techniques to get rid of “irritability,” “migraines,” and “fatigue” with Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” blaring in the background. The commercials did come with a few warnings…the main one I remember is that women over 35 who smoke should not take Yaz.
Yaz commercials today are quite different. It’s one female speaking directly to the camera. “You may have heard some misleading information in recent commercials for Yaz. The Food and Drug Administration has asked us to clarify,” she begins. Not a good sign. This second commercial was prompted by a letter from the FDA, a government agency charged with protecting consumers. (You can view the letter on the FDA’s Web site here.)
The letter states that the first round of Yaz commercials “encourage use of YAZ in circumstances other than those in which the drug has been approved, over-promise the benefits and minimize the risks associated with YAZ.” The seven-page letter is signed by Thomas Abrams, R.Ph., M.B.A. Director Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communications.
According to The New York Times, 27 of 50 state attorney generals filed complaints regarding Yaz’s original advertising. To settle a dispute with the FDA and these state officials, Yaz quit running the previous advertisements and started running the second ones. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that the actress talks about things not really mentioned in the original ad, including an increased risk of blod clots which can be fatal. The ads also talk about the added risk for women with heart problems, women over 35 and women who smoke. According to the New York Times, Yaz will continue to run the ads and will submit any future ads to the FDA for approval prior to running for the next six years.
Read the new safety warnings on Yaz’s Web site here. Be prepared to hit your “zoom” button. The guidelines are written in gray ink and in very small print, especially compared to the splashy boutique-style home page of the medicine. The end of the warnings include this statement: You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit www.fda.gov/medwatch or call 1-800-FDA-1088.
I actually began having second opinions about Yaz not long after my original review was published on Associated Content. Even at that early date, the comments were alarming. (Please note that these are comments and some are anonymous.) Among the comments, Kelly reported that her sister had died from the side-effects of Yaz four years ago. Another comment came from Rebecca, a 22-year-old who had developed heart palpitations while taking Yaz. You can read those here.
So, I decided to take a second look. More alarming than the commercial recall is the number of class-action lawsuits pending against the relatively new drug. Several have Web sites, but I sought out a more independent source to get information not provided by Yaz and not provided by attorneys.
I quickly learned that Yaz is considered one of the fourth-generation birth control pills. Others in this class include Seasonique. This drug, now available as a generic, enables you to skip your periods. Newsinferno.com reports that the symptoms reported by those commenting on my original review are much more common than I had originally thought. One particular problem is that I had not heard about was that an ingredient in Yaz causes your potassium levels to rise. According to the FDA, this may result in potentially serious heart problems. (Don’t worry…the ingredient isn’t found in bananas and it’s unlikely that natural foods would raise your level of potassium the way this synthetic ingredient does.)
My own personal experience in the nine months I used Yaz was the primary factor in my decision to quit taking the drug. While my side effects were not as serious as those reported by other users, I did begin to develop chronic respiratory and circulation problems. My doctor could not explain these, but I have noticed a marked decrease since I stopped taking Yaz. I have not reported my problems to the FDA as they are not directly linked. I am not, nor do I know anyone personally, involved in a lawsuit over the drug.
Is Yaz right for you? That’s a decision only you and your doctor can make. If you want to skip your periods, you may look at Season-i-que or other brands that allow you to manipulate your cycle and have only four periods each year. If you suffer from serious PMMD, the risk may be worth it. Just know what the risk is before you begin taking Yaz. If you are over 35, be aware that a long list of heart complications has been linked to Yaz. And those complications occur in non-smokers as well as smokers.
Sources for this article:
Singer, Natasha. (2009: Feb. 13). “A Birth Control Pill That Promised Too Much” In The New York Times.
“Go Beyond Birth Control With Yaz,” article on the Yaz Web-site.
“Yaz Side-Effects.” Article on Drugs.com.
Miller, Ronald. “Yaz Lawsuits.” In the Accident and Injury Lawyer Blog.
Edwards, Jim. (2009, June 1). “Bayer Sued over Yazmin Death, Blood Clots.” Published on BNET.