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Group questions birth control side-effects

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A class action lawsuit has been filed against Bayer Pharmaceuticals regarding risks surrounding Yasmin and Yaz birth control. The drugs were approved by Heath Canada in 2003 and 2008, respectively, for the prevention of pregnancy. Last March, Siskinds LLP filed a suit, representing three women with safety concerns regarding their birth control. According to the Statement of Claim, Bayer failed to adequately warn health professionals and patients of increased health risks associated with both Yaz and Yasmin compared to other oral contraceptives.

Although the case is still pending and has no official status in court, lead lawyer Matthew Baer hopes Siskinds' efforts will help launch action against Bayer. Siskinds sponsored studies show Yaz and Yasmin puts users at a higher risk of deep vein thrombosis than other leading birth control pills.

The studies are being refuted by the manufacturer and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada who say the research is flawed.

"Our studies show that there is an increased health risk for women," said Baer. "A progesterone used in the Bayer products called drospirenone is not used in any other birth control. It's causing women harm; many young healthy woman have had to have their gall bladder removed."

With the help of tbk Creative, Siskinds law firm turned to social media to create awareness about potential side effects of the oral contraceptives. According to the campaign these include, but are not limited to, an increased risk of stroke, gall bladder disease, heart attack, pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis. The "Take Your Body Back" campaign launched on Facebook last October.

"It has been so successful," said Baer. "It reaches out to our target audience-- young woman who take oral contraceptives are likely to be involved in social networking. Within 45 days of the launch, more than 1,000 women joined and [it] now has over 2,000 members. We hope that this will involve more individuals in the proceeding."

Although any oral contraceptives are accompanied by health risks, Baer said the risk is higher in Bayer products than other contraceptives.

Bayer Pharmaceutical denies these claims.

"Yasmin is very well studied, more than any other contraceptive," said vice-president and head of medical and scientific affairs for Bayer Inc. Dr. Shurjeel Choudhri. "With so many studies done we know that there is no significant difference in the risk of Yaz or Yasmin compared with any other oral contraceptive."

A medical statement released by Bayer on Mar. 25 claimed no significant difference in the risk for deep vein thrombosis amongst contraceptives. An increased risk of thrombosis is acknowledged in all oral contraceptives, not just Yaz and Yasmin.

"Women will always worry about their safety," said Choudhri. "But the risks are much higher of blood clots with pregnancy than birth control. The Siskinds studies have significant flaws. There is a clear guide given to women about the risks involved with taking contraceptives; they are very well communicated."

Yasmin is one of the most popular birth control pills on the market.

"The higher use of the product means more women will come forward with concerns," said Choudhri.

Yaz and Yasmin appeal to many young women because of its reduced side effects and acne-fighting abilities.

Carmen Fedoruk, a 21-year- old Calgarian, switched to Yaz six months ago.

"My doctor recommended the switch," Fedoruk said. "When I first started I experienced weird side effects that I hadn't with my previous birth control. I still get odd cramps, but it has helped my acne a lot."

Chourdhri said there is a tendency for anyone to question the safety of any new drug on the market.

Fedoruk, who was not aware of the campaign, said she wished her doctor had been more informative.

"My health is definitely not something I want to mess with."

Baer said it is a long process to pass the certification hearing, partly due to Bayer's head office hailing in Germany.

"It has been difficult, we have had to translate everything," said Baer. "But once the certification test is passed, Siskinds will represent all women who have experienced adverse side effects with these particular contraceptives instead of dealing with each case individually."

The SOGC recommends talking with a doctor before discontinuing use of birth control.

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