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Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception is resorted to by women to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex. Also known as postcoital contraception, it can be used if any other contraceptive method has failed.

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The preventive measure includes use of emergency contraceptive pills and IUD.

When to use emergency contraception?

  • After having unprotected and unplanned sexual intercourse
  • Slipping or tearing of condom during sex
  • Missed dose of birth control pill
  • Failing to withdraw before ejaculation
  • Miscalculation of sexual abstinence method during fertile period
  • After sexual assault and rape

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What are the different methods of emergency contraception?

There are two methods of emergency contraception:

1.Emergency contraceptive pill (ECP)

  • Progestin-only pill- contains the hormone progestin only (1.5 mg of levonorgestrel). A single dose (1.5 mg) or 2 pills (0.75 mg each) in 12 hours gap can be taken up to three days (72 hours) of having unprotected sex for most effective results. This is the most common type of emergency contraceptive.
  • Combination pill- the method of contraception is similar to that of progestin-only pill. However it contains estrogen and progestin in combination and its effectiveness is much lower than a progestin-only pill.
  • Ulipristal- this is a prescription drug and it can be taken up to 5 days i.e. 120 hours of unprotected sex. Ulipristal acetate is a hormone and its dosage will be determined by your doctor.  

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2.Intrauterine device (IUD)

It’s a small plastic copper device that is inserted in the womb through the cervix by your doctor. It can be placed within 5 to 7 days of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. IUD is not only an emergency measure but it is also a long term birth control method

How does an emergency contraceptive work?

Emergency contraceptive pills and devices have various modes of action. They prevent a woman from getting pregnant temporarily in the following ways:

  • It prevents or delays ovulation for time being
  • It protects the egg from getting fertilized
  • It prevents a fertilized egg from getting implanted in the uterus

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How effective is an emergency contraception method?

The effectiveness of the contraceptive method depends on how quickly you take the pill.

  • Progestin pills give you 95% protection when you consume within 24 hours of unprotected sex. The maximum time is between 72-120 hours for ECPs.
  • IUDs offer 99% protection when implanted within 5 days
  • Emergency contraception doesn’t work if you are already pregnant

Are there any side effects of contraceptive pills?

There are mild short term side effects of contraceptive pills which include:

Important Points to Remember

  • You should get your periods within 7 days of having the pill.
  • Check with your doctor if you do not get periods within the expected time
  • Check with your doctor if the symptoms last longer
  • You may need to take repeated dose if you have vomited. Check this with your doctor
  • Tell your doctor if you are allergic to copper or any other substances
  • Emergency contraception is not a long term birth control measure. For that reason IUDs can be used
  • Emergency contraception cannot abort a  baby

Do not consider using emergency contraception repeatedly, instead practise safe sex techniques to prevent pregnancy and protect yourself from STDs at the same time.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta

Date last updated: January 17, 2015

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