Friday, September 14, 2007

The New Wonder Pill of the 21st Century

I was getting my hair cut today, browsing through an issue of US weekly when I came across an advertisement for a birth control pill called Yaz. What struck me was the ad itself. It showed a teenager who looked to be about 16 years old in workout clothes in a boxing stance, punching the words "Fatigue", "Bloating", "Moodiness", and "Acne". On the next page, the headline asks: "Ready for Birth Control that Goes Beyond?". Reading further it states that Yaz goes beyond the rest by treating the emotional and physical premenstrual symptoms - irritability, moodiness, feeling anxious, bloating, increased appetite, fatigue, headaches and muscle aches. Now tell me,  what adolescent teenage girls doesn't have all these symptoms, (premenstrual or not) who wouldn't want to find a way to abolish them?

My dilemma is this: I am completely in favor of teenagers practicing safe sex - and I am a proponent of the the Pill as an important and necessary means of birth control (along with condoms, of course), but I am beginning to question the ease by which doctors are prescribing the Pill for non-contraceptive purposes. It seems to me that it is being billed as the Wonder Drug for young women. 

I speak from experience. At my 17 year old daughter's  annual physical this summer, the pediatrician was quick to suggest that she go on the Pill, to "possibly reduce bloating, treat the little bit of acne that crops up once in a while, reduce her cramping, regulate her cycle, perhaps reduce her blood flow". I was shocked! We are talking hormone therapy just because she has some discomfort and a few pimples? I understand if there were real medical indications for prescribing this type of therapy and I know there are many people who truly suffer from heavy menstrual cycles and cramping and even really bad acne - and being on the Pill is a necessary option.

However, I wonder what % of our teens are on the Pill, not for contraceptive reasons, and not because they suffer really debilitating symptoms - but because they are just a little uncomfortable or even now, with the introduction of Lybrel, just don't want to be bothered with a period at all. Just because a medication has been approved by the FDA does not make it safe. Think of the number of drugs that have been pulled after FDA approval, does VIOX ring a bell?

I started doing a little research. Do you know that there are now chewable birth control pills? The manufacturers claim that it's for women who can't swallow pills, but come on, who are we kidding, who are these really marketed to? The ad for Yaz (consider the name itself), is marketed to a teen audience not even looking for birth control. Take a look at these really cool pill cases. Trust me, these are not for you and me.

I realize that today's pill has a much lower dose of estrogen than the pill 10 years ago. I understand that there is a laundry list of benefits that the Pill has to offer from reduced premenstrual and menstrual symptoms to lowering the risks of certain cancers and increasing bone density. However, we cannot forget that it is still has risk factors, such as potential increase in breast cancer, blood clots, strokes and heart attacks, especially with women who smoke. We also don't know the effect of long term use of these oral contraceptives. 

Despite the fact that she told me "1/2 of her high school is on the Pill, and it's no big deal", my daughter decided not to go on the Pill - not because the doctor went over the risks and benefits of taking it so that she could make an informed decision. It was because I explained to her that it really was a big deal - and she needed to make an intelligent and informed decision. I know the day will come when she chooses to go on the Pill, but at least, I hope, it will because she has weighed the risks and benefits and decides that she will take it to avoid pregnancy or because for some reason it is strongly recommended for a medical condition. To ease some crampiness, reduce or abolish her period all together, give her clearer skin? Is it really worth the risk? 


the individual voice said...

Now that menopausal women have learned hormones are too dangerous for us, guess where the drug reps are taking their little repackaged hormone samples next?

minivan diaries said...

No kidding! It really is frightening. As parents and consumers, we need to take responsibility for what is being sold to our kids. I would love to do a study on how many girls are on birth control for non-contraceptive purposes, and how long has it been that pediatricians began dispensing them.

the individual voice said...

horror story: I have in my career known of anorexic girls being given "The Pill" by their pediatricians to make sure the girls keep getting the period their body is too thin to create on its own. These were never ongoing patients, so I couldn't ask the MD's rationale, but it seemed like bolstering the girl's denial, at the very least.

minivan diaries said...

It's funny that you mention this -- the main impetus for my entry was an experience earlier in my daughter's life. When she was 12 years old, she lost a considerable amount of weight. Her pediatrician (not the one she has now) immediately diagnosed with anorexia. We never believed she was anorexic and this brought on a 2 year journey of trying to figure out what was wrong with her (a story for another time). In any event, she ended up losing her period, which she hadn't had for very long to begin with. What do you think? The doctor suggested she go on the Pill to get it going again. We never took the advice and she ended up getting it again when she got older. BTW, we discovered her weight loss was from a wheat intolerance - something that was never even contemplated -- she was smart, athletic and a bit of an overachiever -- Red Flag for anorexia -- that pediatrician changed by daughter's life.... in the end, she's come out stronger for it.... but during her adolescence - I would never want to go back to that time. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think maybe its a little rude to be posting your children's dirty laundry?

minivan diaries said...

What dirty laundry are you referring to? I believe I have shown a great deal of discretion- my goal is to inform and educate other's who may not have thought about this issue. What she went through has made her stronger and better as a result -- and as consumers of anything (health care, products, etc) it's our responsibility to gather all the facts and not take information handed to us by a professional as the final word just because they are professionals. My daughter has learned this as well and she has nothing to be ashamed of. I'm not sure where the dirty laundry is.

Anonymous said...

Ill tell you what dirty laundry..I know that if I was the daughter asking for the pill granted in my time ( I am now 60) that was not an option but if I were her I would be ashmed for people to know that I am asking for it and to a greater effect even if it is not for birth control matters I am sure she does not want people to know she is suseptible to acne. Keep writing about accurances in the media i dont believe that family matters are something that should be discussed and I am refering to all blogs not just yours.

minivan diaries said...

Thank-you for your sentiments. Although I will tell you that she knows that I wrote about this and she doesn't mind, I appreciate what you are saying. This blogging experience is new to me and what I know best is what I've learned from being a parent for the last 20 years. I will listen to your advice and continue to write with some of your suggestions in mind. Thanks for reading and I hope you continue to come and read what I have to say.

By the way, she wasn't ASKING for the pill and that was the point of my post -- the doctor was so willing to offer it up to her so easily just because it might help her with occasional acne, while not considering that this medication consists of serious hormones -- kind of a big deal for a very small problem.