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The Basics about Emergency Contraception

By HERWriter
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emergency contraception Photo: Getty Images

Accidents, like forgetting to take birth control or miscalculating a safe day, or worse things, like rape, happen. That’s when emergency contraception can come into play. It’s the drug or device used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse.

Emergency contraception is also known as the morning-after pill, emergency birth control, backup birth control, and by brand names like Plan B One-Step, Next Choice and the Copper T380 intrauterine device.

The phrase “morning-after pill” is a misnomer since emergency contraception can be used several days after unprotected intercourse.

The first dose of emergency contraceptive should be taken within the first 72 hours after unprotected sex to reduce the possibility of pregnancy. Some studies show it is effective if taken after that time (up to 120 hours), but they are most effective in the first 72 hours. According to Planned Parenthood and the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, if taken within the first 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, emergency contraceptive pills are 75-89 percent effective in reducing the risk of pregnancy. Simply put, the sooner emergency contraception is started, the better it will work.

The hormone in the emergency contraception pills works by keeping a woman's ovaries from releasing eggs — better known as ovulation. The hormone also prevents pregnancy by thickening a woman's cervical mucus. The mucus blocks sperm and keeps it from joining with an egg. These pills contain high doses of the same hormones found in regular birth control pills. The high dose of hormones is short lived.

Just as in birth control pills, there are common side effects with emergency contraceptive pills. These include nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, and menstrual changes. Breast tenderness and fluid retention may also occur. There are even some serious risks like heart attack, blood clots and strokes.

Emergency contraception pills are not 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, even when taken within 72 hours of intercourse. You still have a risk for pregnancy. A health care provider should be contacted if a woman does not get her period within three weeks of using emergency contraception or has symptoms of pregnancy.

Contraceptive pills do not provide any protection against sexually transmitted diseases. It is important for women to get tested for sexually transmitted infections if the unprotected intercourse may have put them at risk.

With the exception of Plan B (which is available over the counter for women older than 17), emergency contraception is available by prescription only. It can be obtained from doctors, health centers and in many hospital emergency rooms.

Stacy Lloyd is a writer and video producer in Phoenix, Arizona. A former television news journalist, she covered stories around the world. Currently, she produces corporate and non-profit videos and broadcast programming.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Emergency Contraception

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