The unspoken side effects of Yaz

by Hannah Kohlman - 25/02/14, 3:00 PM
Author Hannah Kohlman, who was hospitalised for severe blood clots.

Author Hannah Kohlman, who was hospitalised for severe blood clots.

I started taking the birth control pill Yaz simply because I had heard from a few friends that it was the "better" pill to take as it caused fewer side effects than the majority of other pills on the market, such as no weight gain, no mood swings and improved skin. I simply went to my doctors and asked if I could start taking it. There were no questions asked. I was in and out of the doctors in a matter of minutes, prescription in hand.

Prior to collapsing six months later, I had heard absolutely nothing about the pill giving an increased risk of blood clots. In high school we're educated about contraceptives, but never the side effects or risks. It's just not a factor.

I have always considered myself to be an active, healthy person. I also have always enjoyed going to the gym and eating healthy is very important to me. The thought of having blood clots was something so foreign to me, something I thought only elderly people would get, or extremely unhealthy people.


In September 2012, I suffered a major pulmonary embolism which was caused by taking the birth control pill Yaz. My symptoms only started about a week prior to collapsing.

People at work kept mentioning how pale I looked. I was finding it exhausting to climb the stairs in our building, and by lunch time I was ready for sleep. That feeling gradually worsened and I was beginning to wonder if I'd developed asthma. I was always short of breath.

On Saturday I woke up with chest pains. I thought I had pulled a muscle in my chest. I went to bed that night thinking that if it didn't go away in a couple of days I would go to the doctor.

The following morning I suffered a severe and excruciating pain in my chest, so bad that my eyes went black and I was sure that I was going to faint. My heart was racing and it didn't matter how quickly I breathed, it did not satisfy my oxygen intake. Every breath I took felt like knives piercing my chest. I collapsed down on the kitchen floor and came to the scary realisation that I was the only one home.

At that point I knew I had two choices. I could either die on the kitchen floor, or I could get to my phone. Even though I couldn't breathe, and darkness was lapping at my consciousness I dragged myself to my phone, and hit the first speed dial that came up. My brother. I couldn't speak when he answered but he knew something was wrong. He called an ambulance. My job was done.

When I woke up in emergency I was told that my systolic blood pressure reading was at 46, below half of what a normal adult's blood pressure should be. The CT scan of my lungs showed that I had two huge blood clots blocking two of the main arteries to my heart. My left lung was blocked 100 per cent, and my right lung blocked 75 per cent.

I'm told that through years of running and being healthy, my body had actually grown these things called "collateral arteries", which surrounded my heart and lungs, and gave my heart just enough oxygen to survive. The doctors told me that the majority of people with severe PE (blood clots in lungs) like this didn't get diagnosed until their autopsy. I felt awful. But still incredible lucky that I was still alive.

The next week was a nightmare. I was taken to the intensive care unit with 24-hour surveillance monitors because the clots could move and give me a heart attack, or they could shoot up to my brain and I could have a stroke. While I was in intensive care the lady next door to me died and the severity of my situation really hit me and I started to panic.

My heart was severely stretched from having to work so hard to keep pumping. For about six months after getting out of hospital my heart hurt constantly. It felt swollen, too big to fit in my chest. I've also suffered from post-traumatic stress. Sometimes I have panic attacks, and flashbacks of me lying on the ground.

After I got out of hospital it was very hard to get back to day-to-day life working nine-to-five and staying still. I wasn't able to travel for a year and I will always have an increased risk of developing blood clots. I'm only now just starting to feel strong again. It's been about a year and a half since my collapse.

The only verdict that the doctors could think of was that the clots might have been caused by the contraceptive pill Yaz that I was taking. It caused major clots in my legs which travelled up to my arteries and lungs.

I hope by sharing my story it inspires other young healthy women to educate themselves on some of the potential side effects from taking common and popular contraceptive pills such as Yaz.

I have recently joined a potential class action against the company that produces it. Through being involved I have heard countless stories and met so many women that have had similar experiences, ranging from deep vein thrombosis, to strokes, to heart attacks, to – unfortunately – death. There are now more than 700 women across Australia who have expressed interest in this class action, some a lot younger than me.

Having slightly better skin was my initial reason for taking it, and this seems completely silly now. If I had been even slightly aware of the negative side effects, I never would have started taking it in the first place.

Yaz and sister pill Yasmine are  among the most popular oral contraceptives prescribed in Australia, with an estimated 200, 000 women taking them.  Close to 800 Australian women have expressed interest in this class action.

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