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Emergency Contraception Pills

Emergency contraception (EC) pills are used to avoid unwanted pregnancy when regular birth control was not used or not used correctly. EC pills are taken after unprotected sexual intercourse when there is a risk of unwanted pregnancy. EC pills are the only birth control pill that can prevent a pregnancy from occurring after intercourse. If a woman is raped, if a condom breaks, if a couple's resolve to abstain from sex fails EC can reduce the chances of unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. When a woman has not been able to plan for use of regular birth control and needs to avoid pregnancy EC may be helpful.

There are two kinds of EC pills.

  • Emergency contraception pills may reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancy by at least 75% when taken within 3-5 days after unprotected sex.
  • One kind of EC has the hormone progestin which is also used in regular birth control pills. This EC works best when used within 72 hours after unprotected sex. It is available over the counter.
  • Another kind of EC contains ulipristal acetate (UPA). UPA is the most effective kind of EC. UPA may be used up to 120 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse. UPA is available by prescription only.

Emergency contraception is not a replacement for regular birth control methods. EC will not work if a woman is already pregnant.
EC's primary action likely varies depending on what time in the menstrual cycle it is taken. EC may reduce the chances of getting pregnant by at least 75%, and perhaps up to 90%, by:

  • delaying the release of the egg (prevents fertilization) as demonstrated by the most current research
  • blocking the opening to the uterus (stopping the sperm's movement preventing fertilization)
  • temporarily changing the uterine lining (preventing fertilization by slowing the movement of sperm or preventing implantation if an egg is fertilized)

EC will NOT harm a pregnancy. EC can only prevent a pregnancy.

Many brands of daily birth control pills may be used for EC, but they cause more nausea than the brands sold specifically for EC. EC is NOT the same as the "abortion pill" or RU-486.

Advantages of EC:

  • Helpful for victims of rape or sexual coercion after those crimes have occurred.
  • Very safe.
  • Provides a "second chance" to prevent pregnancy when another contraceptive failed, such as a condom breaking, missed pills, late shots, or when plans to abstain from sex were not followed.

Potential disadvantages and side effects:

  • Condoms are the only birth control method that will protect people from sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, warts, hepatitis and human papilloma virus. EC provides no protection from these sexually transmitted diseases.
  • EC may change the amount and timing of the next menstrual period.
  • Some women may experience some nausea, temporary breast tenderness, headache or fatigue for a few hours after taking EC.

Potential risks:

  • There are no known health risks to EC.

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