Emergency Contraception Overview
Emergency contraception (birth control after sexual intercourse) is the use of a drug or device to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse. Emergency contraception can be used when a condom breaks, if a diaphragm or cervical cap slips out of place during intercourse, after a sexual assault, or any time unprotected intercourse occurs. Emergency contraceptive pills are sometimes called the “morning-after pill,” but they are usually effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse.
Emergency contraceptives available in the United States include emergency contraceptive pills, which contain the same hormones found in birth control pills, and the Copper T380 intrauterine device (IUD). The Preven kit, the Plan B kit and Ella are pills marketed as emergency contraceptive pills.
Emergency contraceptive measures can be taken within the first 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse to reduce the possibility of pregnancy. A woman is most likely to become pregnant if sexual intercourse occurs in the few days before or after ovulation (release of an egg from the ovary). Emergency contraceptives should not be used as a contraceptive method in women who are sexually active or planning to become sexually active. They are not as effective as any ongoing contraceptive method.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/28/2014
Omnia M Samra, MD
Bryan D Cowan, MD
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
Lee P Shulman, MD
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