At least 23 Canadian women have died while taking two of the most commonly prescribed birth control pills, Yaz and Yasmin. Health Canada said more than half of the women were younger than 26 years old, including one who was 14, CTV News reports.
The findings come from reports, known as “adverse event reports,” that can be filed by anyone, so there’s no definitive proof the deaths were directly caused by the birth control pills, the Globe and Mail reports.
“Other factors contributing to the [adverse reaction] could be a person's health conditions or other health products they are using at the same time,” Health Canada told CTV News.
Miranda Scott was one of the women listed in the reports. She died at the age of 18 while working out on an elliptical machine at the University of British Columbia three years ago.
"She fell backwards into the person behind her, and then, I guess, when she was on the ground, she said, 'I can't breathe,' and then, you know, she was gone," her mother, Chip McClaughly, told CBC News. "As soon as I heard that she had been on Yasmin, I thought, 'I'm just going to look that up,' and I did, and I thought: 'Oh, my God, this is what's killed her."
McClaughly is part of a class action lawsuit filed against the drug’s manufacturer, Bayer. According to Scott’s autopsy, she died from "disseminated intravascular coagulation" -- blood clots that formed in blood vessels throughout her body. Some of the reported deaths involved blood clots; others included heart attacks or cerebral thrombosis, meaning blood clots in the brain.
Blood clots are a well-known side effect of birth control pills, but they have been especially prevalent in women who take Yasmin or Yaz. In 2011, Health Canada published a review that said women taking Yasmin or Yaz had a 1.5 to three times higher risk of blood clots than those taking other birth control pills, CTV reports. In April 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered Bayer to update its labeling to include a note that said the drug increases the risk of blood clots.
Bayer is scheduled to appear in court in Ontario on Sept. 4. In a written statement to CBC News, the drug manufacturer said it is fighting the class action lawsuit. “We have filed a request with the court for leave to appeal the decision and are evaluating our legal options. ... At Bayer, patient safety comes first, and we fully stand behind Yaz and Yasmin," a Bayer representative wrote.
In most of the Health Canada reports, deaths occurred soon after the women started taking the pills. "And that was all it took, five weeks start to finish, and that was the end of a beautiful, beautiful girl," Scott’s mother told CBC News.