Emergency contraception is the type of birth control used to prevent possible pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse. The main type of emergency contraception is emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs). They were first introduced into the market in 1960s to prevent pregnancy from occurring in women who experienced a sexual assault. Nowadays, emergency contraceptive pills are used anytime unprotected sex occurs, for instance, when a condom breaks, after a sexual assault or anytime a woman has unprotected vaginal sex. It is, however, notable that ECPs should not be used for regular birth control in sexually active women.
Emergency contraceptive pills used to be called “the Morning After Pill”. This term is a bit misleading since ECPs can be taken anytime within 120 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse – a woman does not have to wait until the next morning.
Since ECPs are very similar to the birth control pill , there are two types of ECPs available. One type of ECPs consists of only progestin another type contains both estrogen and progesterone. The amount of these hormones in ECPs is much larger than the one in the birth control pill.
How does emergency contraception work?
There are several mechanisms due to which emergency contraceptive pills prevent possible pregnancy. Firstly, they inhibit ovulation if an egg has not yet been released by the ovaries. Secondly, ECPs prevent pregnancy through changing the movement of an egg if it has already been released. Thirdly, they change the uterine lining, so that it is impossible for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterus.
Note, that emergency contraceptive pills cannot cause an end to the pregnancy if an egg has been fertilized and has already implanted in the uterus. Therefore ECPs are not an abortion causing medication. They also do not protect from sexually transmitted diseases, hence, a person at risk should be checked for STDs. Another problem that emergency contraceptives cannot solve is ectopic pregnancy which occurs when a fertilized egg implants anywhere outside the uterus. This condition needs special medical attention.
All emergency contraceptive pills require a doctor’s prescription. However, the situation might be different depending on the country, state and province. In some states you could get ECPs without prescription at a pharmacy, sexual health care center or from your doctor.
How to use emergency contraception?
Most ECPs should be taken twice. The first dose should be taken within 72 hours of unprotected vaginal sexual intercourse another after 12 hours after the first dose. Bear in mind that emergency contraceptives do not provide any protection against pregnancy for the rest of the menstrual cycle. Therefore additional birth control methods should be used.
Emergency contraceptive pills are rather effective in preventing pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse. Progestin-only ECPs have the efficiency of 89% in pregnancy prevention whereas combined progesterone and estrogen ECPs were found to be as much as 75% efficient when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
Side effects of emergency contraception
Women who take emergency contraceptive pills may experience nausea and vomiting. Progestin-only ECPs are known to cause reduced side effects of this kind. Other most frequent side effects associated with ECPs are changes in menstrual cycle. Periods may become rarer or more frequent. They also may become heavier or lighter. ECPs may also cause tender breasts, dizziness and headaches.