In choosing the right birth control method, women often weigh the benefits and potential risks of a contraceptive. At times, even consulting a doctor on the process.
Recent reports, however, indicate that some birth control methods may contribute to an increased risk of developing a serious medical condition called pseudotumor cerebri (PTC), also known as idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) or benign intracranial hypertension.
Birth control users who suffered from this side effect claim that the manufacturers of these birth control products have failed to warn doctors and consumers of this complication.
What exactly is pseudotumor cerebri and what forms of birth control have been associated with this serious medical condition?
What is a False Brain Tumor?
Pseudotumor cerebri literally translates to “false brain tumor.” It is called as such because its symptoms are similar to those who have a brain tumor.
Although not an actual tumor, PTC is still a serious neurological condition in which the body produces excessive amounts of cerebral spinal fluid inside the skull and leads to an increased pressure on the brain.
This intracranial pressure ultimately results in the most common symptoms pseudotumor cerebri or idiopathic intracranial hypertension, including migraine, blurry vision, and other symptoms which, if not diagnosed or treated promptly, may result in permanent blindness.
What are the Symptoms of Pseudotumor Cerebri?
People who suffer from pseudotumor cerebri typically experience symptoms that are similar to those exhibited by people who have a brain tumor.
These symptoms may include, but are not limited to:
- nausea and vomiting
- blurred vision
- ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- papilledema (swollen optic nerve)
- neck or back pain
- vision loss
- permanent blindness
In several cases, symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri or idiopathic intracranial hypertension may be similar to symptoms of other medical conditions, which increases the possibility of being misdiagnosed during initial examination.
Birth Control and False Brain Tumors: Is There a Link?
Recent studies have indicated that certain types of birth control methods, including the intrauterine device (IUD) and the birth control pill, have been associated with an abnormal increase in cerebral spinal fluid in the brain, a serious condition called pseudotumor cerebri or idiopathic intracranial hypertension.
Mirena is an intrauterine device (IUD) that is implanted in the uterus and gradually releases levonorgestrel, which is a synthetic form of the hormone progestin. The potential of Mirena IUD in causing brain injuries has also been the topic of several studies.
In fact, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine linked levonorgestrel, the hormone present in the Mirena IUD, with intracranial hypertension. Since then, the scientific evidence that support this association has grown, just like how plaintiffs who filed a Mirena lawsuit have also increased over the years.
In 2006, a case of a 23 year-old woman who developed idiopathic intracranial hypertension because of taking Depo-Provera, a birth control shot that also contains progestin, got neurologists talking.
Meanwhile, in 2015, researchers reviewed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Adverse Events Reporting System in which the authors were able to find a higher than expected number of reports for intracranial hypertension and papilledema (swelling of the optic nerve) in women who used the Mirena IUD.
However, Mirena is not the only IUD that has been linked to pseudotumor cerebri. The Paragard IUD, which has been the target of Paragard lawsuits in the United States, also has idiopathic intracranial hypertension as one of its alleged side effects.
On the other hand, hormonal contraceptives like Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills have also been linked to an increased risk of developing pseudotumor cerebri. Both of these contraception methods were found to contain a combination of the hormones ethinyl estradiol (estrogen) and drospirenone, which is another type of progestin.
Although it is still unclear why pseudotumor cerebri develops, some risk factors for the condition include excess weight, use of certain medications like antibiotics or steroids, irregularities in the blood vessel, and sleep apnea. And although body weight gain may be the most preventable pseudotumor cerebri risk factor, that is not to say that thin people cannot develop the disorder, because they still possibly can.
Pseudotumor Cerebri Diagnosis and Treatment
Before, diagnosing pseudotumor cerebri only involved ruling out the existence of an actual brain tumor. However, today, with the help of technological advances in neuroradiology, doctors can now promptly diagnose the condition through certain physical exams and a few tests.
Some of these medical tests include brain imaging such as MRI or CT scans, lumbar puncture which is also known as spinal tap, eye exam, and testing intracranial pressure.
Treatment for the condition mainly depends on what is causing the buildup of pressure in the brain. Some few known treatments include:
- reducing fluids or salt in a patient’s diet
- a lumbar puncture to remove fluid and decrease pressure
- weight loss
- surgical treatment around the optic nerve to reduce pressure
- certain medications like diuretics that help the body get rid of excess fluid
Another known treatment to relive the pressure is through the surgical placement of shunts like ventriculo-peritoneal shunts and lumboperitoneal shunts. However, both types of shunts have a high failure rate and typically results in multiple revision surgeries.
But it seems that hope is still not lost for the treatment of pseudotumor cerebri, as a new surgical procedure called cerebral venous sinus stenting is being studied in clinical trials today.