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New Wonder Pill of the 21st Century

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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 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. 

 

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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?

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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 new 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 cramps, reduce or abolish her period all together, give her clearer skin? Is it really worth the risk? 

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I have been a stay at home mom for 20 years with a law degree and an interest in child advocacy. I write about issues affecting kids and parents on my blog, Minivan Diaries.

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