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Emergency Contraception

What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency contraception reduces the chance of unwanted pregnancy after unprotected intercourse or contraception failure (ie: condom breaking or forgetting to take birth control pills). 

What are the different types of emergency contraception?

There are two emergency contraception options; the copper intrauterine device (IUD) and oral emergency contraception pills. There are three options for oral emergency contraception; a ulipristal pill, a combined estrogen-progestin regimen, and a progestin-only regimen, marketed as “Plan B One-Step” in the U.S. Some of the pill forms of emergency contraception are available over the counter, and others require a prescription. The IUD requires insertion from an OBGYN or healthcare professional.

Oral Emergency Contraception

Plan B One-Step consists of one pill of a progesterone hormone called levonorgestrel. Plan B One-Step is a single tablet that you take within 72 hours after unprotected sex. Emergency contraception is most effective when taken as soon as possible, and can prevent up to 89% of unintended pregnancies. 

Plan B One-Step is available over the counter in the U.S., but must be dispensed by the pharmacist and requires proof of age (ie: driver’s license) for purchase. It is available without a prescription to women age 17 years or older. Anyone who is under age 17 requires a doctor’s prescription to obtain Plan B One-Step. The over the counter cost is approximately $50.

While oral emergency contraception regimens like Plan B delay ovulation, there is no single method of action to prevent pregnancy. Plan B does not terminate or abort an already established pregnancy.

Common side effects of oral emergency contraception include nausea and vomiting, irregular bleeding, breast tenderness, dizziness, headache and fatigue.

After emergency contraception use, the menstrual period usually occurs within 1 week before or after the expected time. Some women will experience irregular bleeding or spotting the week after the oral emergency contraception regimen is taken. If your period is more than a week late after using emergency contraception, keep in mind that you could be pregnant. If you do become pregnant after using emergency contraception, there is no risk to your baby. However, as with any pregnancy, it is important to see your doctor to confirm a normally developing intrauterine pregnancy. You may also want to consult with your doctor regarding ongoing reliable contraception options.

Remember that emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

Copper IUD

The copper IUD marketed as “Paragard” works by making the sperm less likely to fertilize an egg. When placed within five days of unprotected sex, the copper IUD is the most effective form of emergency contraception and after insertion can prevent pregnancy for up to ten years. You can have it removed at any time. While studies have shown that oral emergency contraception is less effective for overweight or obese women, the copper IUD is effective for women of any weight. It’s important to note that the progesterone or “Mirena” IUD is not effective for emergency contraception.

A healthcare professional must insert the IUD.

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