FDA Safety Alert: Women's Health

Birth Control Pills Containing Drospirenone: Possible Increased Risk of Blood Clots

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is informing the public about new information that is being assessed as part of their ongoing safety review of birth control pills that contain drospirenone. This review will further evaluate the risk of blood clots in women who use these products.

Drospirenone is a type of female sex hormone called a progestin. Most birth control pills contain two types of hormones - estrogen and progestin. Birth control pills work by preventing the release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation) and changing the cervical mucus and the lining of the uterus to prevent pregnancy.

Facts about Drospirenone

  • Used in combination with an estrogen in oral contraceptives.
  • Brand names of drospirenone-containing products include Yaz (generics Gianvi and Loryna), Yasmin (generics Ocella, Syeda, and Zarah), Beyaz, and Safyral.
  • In addition to prevention of pregnancy, some birth control pills containing drospirenone are also approved to treat symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), to treat moderate acne, and to raise folate levels, in women who choose to use an oral contraceptive for birth control. 

A list of birth control pills that contain drospirenone is available here.

All birth control pills pose a risk of blood clots. Several epidemiological studies have reported that the risk of blood clots for women who use birth control pills containing drospirenone is higher than that for women who use birth control pills containing the progestin levonorgestrel. Other studies have not reported an increase in risk.

A blood clot that forms in a deep vein in the body is called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A DVT is a rare side effect of taking birth control pills. A blood clot can break loose from the vein, move through the body to the lung, and cause a serious problem in the lung, called a pulmonary embolism (PE). This can lead to death.3

Two recently published studies reported a greater risk of blood clots for women taking birth control pills containing drospirenone as compared to the risk in women taking birth control pills containing another progestin known as levonorgestrel.1,2

Previously published studies have also addressed the risk of blood clots in women using birth control pills containing drospirenone. These studies had conflicting findings - two postmarketing studies required by the FDA or European regulatory agencies did not report any difference in the risk of blood clots between drospirenone-containing products and products containing levonorgestrel or other progestins.4,5 Two other publications in 2009, however, reported that the risk of blood clots is higher in women using drospirenone-containing products than in women who use levonorgestrel-containing products.6,7

Information from these latter four studies is already presented in the Warnings and Precautions section of current labels for drospirenone-containing birth control pills. An additional large study exploring the association of blood clots with hormonal contraception has been commissioned by FDA, and results of that study are currently being finalized and reviewed.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced on May 27, 2011, that it is updating the product information on oral contraceptives containing drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol regarding the risk of venous thromboembolism after review of all available data, including the same newly published data FDA is reviewing.

The FDA is currently evaluating the conflicting results from these studies and will look at all currently available information to fully assess the risks and benefits of drospirenone-containing birth control pills. FDA will continue to communicate any new safety information to the public as it becomes available.

Additional Information for Patients

  • If your birth control pill contains drospirenone, do not stop taking it without first talking to your healthcare professional.
  • Discuss any questions or concerns about your birth control pill with your healthcare professional.
  • Know the symptoms of blood clots, including persistent leg pain, severe chest pain, or sudden shortness of breath. Contact your healthcare professional immediately if you develop any of these symptoms.
  • If you smoke and are over 35 years of age, you should not take combination oral contraceptives because they increase the risk that you could experience serious cardiovascular events, including blood clots.