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Obstetrics and Gynecology

Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception is used to prevent pregnancy after having sex without birth control or if a problem occurred with the method of birth control used. It is a good option for women who have had unprotected sex and do not want to become pregnant.

A woman can get pregnant if she has sex around the time of ovulation. During sex, the man ejaculates sperm into the vagina. The sperm travel up through the cervix and into the fallopian tubes.

If a sperm meets an egg in the fallopian tube, fertilization union of egg and sperm can occur.

About Emergency Contraception
Emergency contraception is a type of hormonal birth control. It can be used if you have unprotected sex and don't want to get pregnant. It should not be used on a routine basis. You may need emergency contraception if:

The most commonly used method of emergency contraception is pills (also known as the "morning-after pill"). The intrauterine device (IUD) also can be used for emergency contraception.

If you have had unprotected sex, call your doctor's office right away. Be sure to tell them you need treatment without delay. In some cases, your doctor can call in a prescription for you to your drugstore. You also can call the Emergency Contraception Hotline (888-NOT-2-LATE) to find a doctor who will provide you with a prescription.

Do not use emergency contraception routinely instead of birth control. Regular use of a birth control method is not only more effective, but provides health benefits that emergency contraception does not have.

How Emergency Contraception Works
Emergency contraception is highly effective in preventing pregnancy. Pills must be started within 72 hours of having unprotected sex and will reduce the risk of pregnancy by at least 75 percent. If you are already pregnant, emergency contraception will not work.

There are two types of emergency contraception pills. One type is combined birth control pills (containing both estrogen and progestin). The other type contains only progestin and is safer for women who can't take estrogen.

Both types of pills work the same way. The hormones in these pills prevent pregnancy because they disrupt the normal patterns in the menstrual cycle. Depending on where a woman is in her menstrual cycle, these pills may:

How to Take Emergency Contraception
Emergency contraception pills may be prescribed to you in one of three forms:
  1. A specific dosage of regular birth control pills (contains estrogen and progestin)
  2. A prepared kit of four pills (contains estrogen and progestin) that may come with a pregnancy test
  3. A package with two pills (contains progestin only)
For the pills to work, timing is everything. The sooner you start them, the better. The pills are given in two doses. To prevent pregnancy, the first dose of pills must be taken by mouth within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. A second dose is taken 12 hours after the first dose.

Side Effects
Besides the typical side effects of nausea and vomiting, other side effects may include:

Follow-up Care
If you use emergency contraception pills within 72 hours of unprotected sex, your chance of getting pregnant is greatly reduced. However, there is still a chance you could become pregnant. If you do become pregnant, emergency contraception will not have any effect on the pregnancy or the health of the baby.

Keep in mind that emergency contraception does not prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).


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