Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECPs) – How “Plan B” Works

Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) or emergency birth control is meant to be taken after unprotected sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy. Emergency contraception cannot be use as a regular birth control pill because it does not prevent pregnancy when you take the pill before you have unprotected sexual intercourse.

Emergency contraceptive pills are use in situation where you believed you may be at risk of getting pregnant due to errors or accident in using other method of contraception such as missed pill, condom slips off, diaphragm or cervical cap not used correctly or not using any methods of contraception.

There are different types of emergency contraception available in the United States and these may include Plan B, Next Choice and Ella. Plan B came to the US market in 1999, Next Choice came to the US market in 2009 and these are the two brands that consists of progestin-only which can be taken up to 72 hours after intercourse. Ella is another brand that came to the US market in 2010 and it consists of ulipristal acetate which can be taken up to 120 hours after intercourse.

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How it Works

Plan B and Next Choice are available over the counter without prescription if you are 17 or older and prescription is require if you are under 17 years of age. Ella is available by prescription only regardless of age. Emergency contraceptive pills consist of higher concentration of hormones and are meant to be taken after unprotected sexual intercourse to provide effective contraception. The sooner ECPs are taken after unprotected intercourse the better it works in preventing pregnancy.

Plan B and Next Choice both contains two progestin pills which can be taken in two doses. The first dose should be taken within72 hours after unprotected sex and the second dose is taken 12 hours after the first dose. The two pills are identical so it doesn’t matter which pill you take first. Recent research indicates the two pills can also be taken at the same time in one dose as soon as possible within 120 hours after unprotected sex.

Plan B is phasing out and replaced by Plan B One-Step which contains one pill instead of two. The pill works better when taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex and it can also be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex. Ella contains a single pill of ulipristal acetate which is a selective progesterone receptor modulator (SPRM) and it should be taken as soon as possible within 120 hours after unprotected sex.

The progestin in the pill provides effective contraception in several ways. The progestin works by preventing ovaries from releasing eggs and pregnancy cannot happen without egg fertilization. The progestin thickens the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering into the uterus and it also thin the uterus lining to prevent released egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus.

If you are already pregnant when you take emergency contraceptive pills, ECPs will not affect the pregnancy by causing birth defects or abortion. If for some reasons you are not comfortable with using ECPs, another alternative is to use IUD which is another form of regular contraception that can be use as emergency contraceptive. IUD can be used up to 120 hours after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.

Advantages

Emergency contraceptive pills are easy to use and you can use it after unprotected intercourse. You can use it as emergency birth control when you suspect regular birth control method didn’t work. If you are 17 or older, you can get it easily over the counter without prescription. If used correctly it can provide very effective contraception and highly reduce the chance of getting pregnant. Emergency birth control is safe to use and has being used by millions of women with no report of serious complication.

Disadvantages

Emergency birth control does not provide full protection against sexually transmitted diseases. It cannot be use as a regular birth control and is only meant to be taken after unprotected intercourse to prevent pregnancy. If you are under the age of 17, you need prescription to get Plan B One-Step and Next Choice. Prescription is required regardless of age if you want to get Ella.

Certain antibiotic medication or herbal supplement can reduce the effectiveness of ECPs. Some of the common side effects associated with using ECPs may include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache, dizziness, abdominal pain, and breast tenderness. The side effect normally decreases after 24 hours.

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