About YOUR Health: Emergency Contraception
Questions and Answers from the NWHN Women's Health Information Clearinghouse
Q. I have heard that there is a new kind of contraception that can be taken after sex. Is this true, and if it is, how can I get more information?
A. Yes, an option known as emergency contraception (EC) prevents pregnancy after intercourse. It can be used if a condom breaks, after a sexual assault or after unprotected intercourse. It is important to remember that emergency contraception will not protect against sexually transmitted infections. Two types of emergency contraception are available in the U.S.: pills and the copper- T intrauterine device (IUD). Pills are the most common method. EC pills come in two forms, and both are most effective when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
Combined EC pills contain the hormones estrogen and progestin (like birth control pills) and are sold under the brand name Preven. The other pill form of EC contains progestin only and is sold under the brand name Plan B. Higher doses of certain ordinary birth control pills can also be prescribed as EC. EC pills work by delaying or inhibiting ovulation (they also may alter the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation of an egg, or may interfere with the tubal transport of egg or sperm). Women who take combined EC pills may experience nausea and vomiting, though these effects are less common with progestinonly pills. Other side effects include fatigue, headache, dizziness and breast tenderness.
The copper-T IUD can be inserted up to five days after unprotected sex. It works by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. The copper-T IUD can be left in the uterus as a continuous contraceptive method for up to 10 years, though you should have regular checkups with your doctor. Side effects can include pain and cramping after insertion and spotting between periods. In most states, emergency contraception must be prescribed by a physician or reproductive health clinician. In Washington State, pharmacists can prescribe it directly. You can also get EC at Planned Parenthood as well as select student health facilities. Some providers will prescribe EC so that you can have it with you at home as back up. If you use condoms as your primary method of birth control or feel that you might otherwise need EC, you may want to ask for a prescription. To find a provider near you or for more information, call the EC hotline, 1-888-NOT-2-LATE or visit the website www.not-2-late.com.