Emergency Contraception When the Unexpected Happens

There are currently five different forms of emergency contraception all of which can be used when a woman has either had unprotected sex, or in cases where a woman has been raped. Keep in mind that emergency contraception must not be used if you are already pregnant, as it will not work and could cause health problems for you and your unborn child. Most often emergency contraception is used when you did not use proper birth control, were forced to have sex, your diaphragm slipped out of place, you have missed at least two active birth control pills or were late getting your shot, or the condom broke or came off. Emergency contraception should never be used as a regular form of birth control, but only, as the name implies, in true emergencies.

Plan B and Ella

The first type of ECP contains progestin and is for sale from your pharmacist without a prescription to both men and women over the age of 17. This emergency contraceptive pill may be called Plan B, Next Choice, or Plan B One-Step, and may reduce your risk of getting pregnant following unprotected sex by 88%. This progestin pill is less likely to cause the side effects that other emergency pills can bring on. Although the instructions for Plan B say to take two pills twelve hours apart, research has shown that taking both pills at the same time works as well and does not cause an increase in negative side effects. Ella, is the second type of emergency contraceptive pill, however it is available only by doctor's prescription. Ella contains ulipristal acetate, and, unlike some other ECP's, can be taken up to five days following unprotected sex.

Combination Pill

Both progestin and estrogen are used in the third type of emergency contraceptive pill, which is marketed under a variety of brand names. Doctors recommend you take your first dose of this type of contraceptive within five days of unprotected sex, followed by another dose 12 hours later. Even if your doctor has advised you against using the pill as your regular form of birth control, you could still be able to take the combined emergency contraceptive pill, which is thought to reduce your risk of pregnancy by approximately 75%, therefore the progestin only emergency pill is more effective. Almost half of the women who use the combined pill will experience nausea, so it's a good idea to take an over-the counter anti-nausea drug at least an hour prior to taking the emergency combined pill. While there is a fourth type of pill which contains small doses of mifepristone, is highly effective and has few side-effects, as of now the FDA has not granted approval, therefore it is only available in China and Russia.

Copper-T IUD

If you have had unprotected sex, you can have your doctor place an IUD in your uterus within five days; it will work by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus or by simply prohibiting the sperm from making its way to the egg. The IUD can either be removed following your next period, or can be left in place for up to ten years as your regular form of birth control.

While you can also use a higher dose of your regular birth control pills as emergency birth control it may not work as well as the type specifically marketed for emergencies. In this case you would take one pill right away, and another twelve hours later, but you must ensure you use only the active pills rather than the reminders. Following the use of ECP's, your next period may come sooner or later than normal, however most women will get their period within seven days of the expected date, and your period could be heavier, lighter, or spottier than normal. If you become pregnant despite the use of an emergency contraceptive, there is little evidence to show there could be harm to the baby from the use of the pill.

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