What is emergency contraception?
If you had sex without birth control, there is a chance that you could get pregnant. This is true even if you have not started having periods yet or you are getting close to menopause. You could also get pregnant if you used a birth control method that is not very reliable or if you didn't use it the right way.
Using emergency contraception right away can prevent an unwanted pregnancy and keep you from worrying while you wait for your next period to start.
What are the types of emergency contraception?
There are two main types of emergency contraception: pills and the copper intrauterine device (IUD). Most women choose pills because they work well, don't cost a lot, and are usually easy to get. The IUD works very well, but it has to be inserted by a doctor.
How does it work?
Emergency contraception pills work by preventing ovulation, fertilization, or implantation.
Emergency contraception hormones may prevent fertilization by stopping the ovary from releasing an egg (ovum). They also make the fallopian tubes less likely to move an egg toward the uterus. Emergency contraception is also thought to thin the lining of the uterus, or endometrium. The thickened endometrium is where a fertilized egg would normally implant and grow.
The copper IUD for emergency contraception may work by killing sperm, preventing fertilization, or preventing implantation.
Where can you get emergency contraception?
Emergency contraception. If you are 15 or older, you can get emergency contraception, such as Plan B One-Step, without a prescription at most drugstores. If you are younger than 15, you need a prescription.
Some types of emergency contraception, such as ulipristal (for example, Ella) are available only with a prescription from a doctor.
Birth control pills. If you already have birth control pills on hand, you may be able to use them for emergency birth control. To find out which brands of pills work and how to take them, go to:
Some pharmacists will not sell emergency contraception or fill prescriptions for birth control pills. If this happens to you, ask for the location of a pharmacist who will, or go to:
IUD. You can get an IUD from many doctors, from college and public health clinics, or in most hospital emergency rooms. An IUD has to be inserted by a doctor or other health professional.
How do you use it?
Emergency contraception pills
The pills come in 1-pill or 2-pill packages. Follow the directions in the package or take them as your doctor directs you to.
You can take emergency contraception up to 5 days after unprotected sex. But it works best if you take it right away.
Birth control pills as emergency contraception
For most regular birth control pills, you take one dose of 2 to 5 pills as soon as you can. Then you take a second dose 12 hours later. The dose depends on the type of pill.
If you use birth control pills for emergency contraception, keep the following in mind:
A doctor or other health professional has to insert an IUD.
How well does it work?
Emergency contraception works very well. The sooner you use it, the more likely it is to prevent pregnancy. Overall:
If you haven't started your period within 3 weeks after using emergency contraception, get a pregnancy test.
Does it cause side effects?
Emergency contraception may cause some side effects.
Call your doctor if you have a headache, dizziness, or belly pain that is severe or that lasts longer than 1 week.
If you are already pregnant, most pills won't harm the fetus. But some pills, such as ulipristal, may cause problems with the pregnancy. More research is needed to know for sure. An IUD could cause problems with the pregnancy.
What else should you think about?
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
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