Emergency Contraception

Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception is birth control to prevent pregnancy after a woman has had unprotected sex.

What is the information for this topic?

Emergency contraception needs to be given within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It should not be used regularly for birth control. It may be used in the following cases:

  • after a male condom or female condom breaks
  • after rape
  • when no method of birth control was used
  • when other types of birth control fail
  • When a woman receives emergency contraception, she should also ask about ongoing birth control.

    Emergency contraception involves high-dose hormone pills or an intrauterine device, or IUD. Five methods of emergency birth control are available in the United States:

  • a copper-containing IUD, which is inserted into the uterus
  • oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, that have ethinyl estradiol, an estrogen, and norgestrel or levonorgestrel, which are progestins
  • birth control pills with norgestrel alone
  • pills that only have levonorgestrel, such as Plan B
  • Preven, a product that has ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel and is sold specifically for emergency contraception
  • The birth control pills are taken in two doses. The first dose is given within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The second is taken exactly 12 hours later. Hormone combination pills prevent pregnancy in 75% of cases. Not all women would become pregnant after one act of unprotected sex. Another view is that 75% of women who would have become pregnant won’t after using these combination pills. The pills that contain only one hormone prevent pregnancy in 85% of cases. Insertion of an IUD within 5 days of unprotected sex works 99% of the time.

    The risks of pregnancy must be weighed against the risks of emergency birth control. Short-term use of oral contraceptives does not have the same problems as long-term use. A woman who can’t use birth control pills or an IUD regularly may be able to use them safely for emergency contraception.

    Emergency contraception may increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy, if pregnancy occurs in spite of treatment. In an ectopic pregnancy, the egg implants outside of the uterus. Usually the egg implants in one of the fallopian tubes. These are the tubes that carry the egg from the ovary to the uterus. There is also a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy with use of an IUD.

    IUDs can cause abdominal cramping. They may also make a small hole in the uterus. Following are some of the side effects of hormones:

  • a change in the time of a woman’s next period
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • Menstruation begins in almost all women within 21 days if pregnancy has been prevented. Women should have a pregnancy test if this does not happen.

    Article type: xmedgeneral