Ocella, one of Yasmin’s generic versions, has recently come under intense scrutiny because of its alleged link to pulmonary embolism (PE) events. PEs occur when one or more lung arteries become blocked by a blood clot, resulting in a potentially life-threatening situation. Signs and symptoms of an Ocella-induced pulmonary embolism may include sudden and unexplained shortness of breath, chest pain, and a cough that may bring up blood.
What’s the Problem with Ocella?
While pulmonary embolisms are a risk associated with all forms of birth control, new evidence has linked drospirenone-containing contraceptives like Ocella to a significantly increased risk of PEs compared to products containing levonorgestrel, another hormone contained in many older forms of birth control.
A 2009 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that women taking drospirenone pills had more than a six-fold increased risk for developing blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. By comparison, women who used birth control products containing levonorgestrel had much lower outcomes, with less than a four times increased risk over women from the general population who did not take oral contraceptive products.
Pulmonary Embolism Overview
If a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one of the body’s veins (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT), it may break off and migrate into the circulatory system and travel (embolize) through the heart and become lodged in one of the branches of the pulmonary artery of the lung. The PE then clogs the artery that provides blood supply to part of the lung, preventing the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, as well as decreasing blood supply to the lung tissue itself. If left untreated, this situation causes the lung tissue to die (infarct).
Signs & Symptoms
The main symptoms of a pulmonary embolism typically include:
- Sudden chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Painful or labored breathing
- Blue-tinged discoloration of the skin (cyanosis)
- Erratic heartbeat
Diagnosis & Prognosis (Outlook)
In many cases, a conclusive diagnosis of pulmonary embolism is hard to confirm due to the fact that many of the accompanying symptoms mimic those of other problems such as heart attacks, panic attacks, or pneumonia. The doctor will start by conducting a physical exam and asking the patient questions about their past health and symptoms. This can help the doctor decide if the individual is at high risk for PE. Based on the risk assessment, the doctor may order additional tests such as an ultrasound, spiral CT scan, electrocardiogram (EKG), or MRI to confirm the diagnosis.
Although the exact number of individuals affected by pulmonary embolisms isn’t currently known, estimates suggest the condition affects between 300,000 and 600,000 people in the United States each and every year. If left untreated, about 30% of PE patients will die, most often within the first few hours of the event. The good news is that a prompt diagnosis and proper treatment can save lives and prevent the long-term complications of pulmonary embolisms.