Emergency contraception is a method to prevent pregnancy in women who have had unprotected sex, or for whom a barrier method has failed (slipped condom, diaphragm, or cervical cap, or broken condom).
Emergency contraception may be used following many different situations, including:
Emergency contraception medicine is not the same as the "abortion pill." A woman who knows she is pregnant takes the abortion pill with the intent to end an early pregnancy (usually 4 to 7 weeks after conception). Emergency contraception pills are taken after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy from occurring.
TYPE OF EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION
Several types of emergency contraception drugs are available.
Two emergency contraceptive pills have been approved:
Birth control pills, if available, can be used for emergency contraception. You must take two to five "regular" pills together to equal one dose of emergency contraception. It is best to talk to your health care provider about the correct dosage before doing this.
An alternative emergency contraception relies on insertion of a copper-releasing intrauterine device (IUD) within 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected intercourse. It can be removed after your next period, or left in place to provide ongoing contraception. The copper IUD reduces the risk of pregnancy by 99.9%.
MORE ABOUT EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTIVE PILLS
Both types Plan B One-Step and Next Choice are available over-the-counter (without a prescription) to women 17 years and older. Women younger than 17 can contact their health care provider to get a prescription for these pills. These pills are still considered safe to use for this younger age group.
Emergency contraceptives work best when taken within the first 24 hours after intercourse.
Emergency contraceptives work mostly by preventing or delaying the release of an egg (ovulation) - the same way that taking regular birth control pills works. It is possible that these drugs work by preventing an egg from being fertilized by a sperm, or by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in (sticking to) the walls of your uterus (womb).
Mild and often unpleasant side effects from emergency contraception medication may include:
After taking emergency contraception, a woman's next menstrual cycle may start earlier or later than expected and the menstrual flow may be lighter or heavier than usual.
OTHER IMPORTANT FACTS
Women who believe that they are already pregnant and may have been for longer than several days should not take emergency contraception medicine. Also, women who have vaginal bleeding for an unknown reason should discuss this with their health care provider before taking emergency contraception.
Women who cannot take birth control pills regularly may often still be able to use emergency contraceptives, but they should also discuss this option with their health care provider.
If emergency contraception fails and the woman becomes pregnant, there do not appear to be any long-term effects on the pregnancy or the fetus.
Emergency contraception should not be used as a routine birth control method, because it is actually less effective at preventing pregnancies than most types of birth control.
Morning-after pill; Postcoital contraception; Birth control - emergency; Plan B