Increasing use of emergency contraception could serve to reduce the high medical and social cost of unintended pregnancy. The chances of a woman getting pregnant after a single act of unprotected intercourse can be as high as 20% When emergency contraception is used as directed, that risk may be reduced to about 2%
Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECPs) are either combination birth control pills containing levonorgestrel and estrogen, such as LoOvral; or Plan B which contains a high dose of levonorgestrel but has no estrogens. Plan B is now being sold at pharmacies over the counter and without age restrictions.
If the woman is already pregnant, the ECPs will not stop or terminate the pregnancy.
ECPs are intended for use only as an emergency treatment, and are not a substitute for regular methods of contraception because of their significantly lesser effectiveness. ECPs may be repeated several times a year but only for emergency situations.
ECPs work by preventing or delaying the release of an egg from the ovary, preventing fertilization, or causing changes in the lining of the uterus that may prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. Because of the short duration of exposure and the low total hormone dose, ECPs may be used by almost all women, including those who are not typically advised to use combination birth control pills on a daily basis. The US Food and Drug Administration has stated that the use of Plan B or other certain hormonal pills is safe and effective for emergency contraception.
The ECPs should be started as soon as possible, preferably within three days (72 hours) after unprotected sex (sex without birth control). The sooner you take it, the better it will work in reducing the chance of pregnancy after unprotected sex. It should not be used after 5 days (120 hours).
The new Plan B One-Step requires a single dose that should be taken with meal. It is also advisable to take an antiemetic such as Meclizine hydrochloride two 25-mg tablets prior to each ECP dose. If vomiting occurs within 2 hours of taking the dose, it may be advisable to repeat the dose. You should continue to use condoms, or a diaphragm or birth control pills to prevent pregnancy if you have sex before your next menstrual period after you can use any regular method of contraception. In addition you should continue to protect yourself against, or get treatment for, sexually transmitted diseases. If you are concerned about STD, you need to seek diagnosis and treatment in addition to emergency contraception.
ECPs are not 100 percent effective. The available data suggest that there is no risk to the fetus if the ECP fails, but little research has been done on this issue. However, a woman who would continue a pregnancy if the morning-after treatment failed should not take the morning after pill. You need to return to the clinic or get a pregnancy test if your menstrual period has not started within three weeks after treatment.
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