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Emergency Contraception - Topic Overview

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. You can get emergency contraception without a prescription at most drugstores.

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:

  • The Planned Parenthood website at www.plannedparenthood.org.
  • The Emergency Contraception website at http://ec.princeton.edu.

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:

  • The Emergency Contraception website at http://ec.princeton.edu, or call 1-888-NOT-2-LATE (1-888-668-2528).
  • The Planned Parenthood clinic nearest you, or call 1-800-230-PLAN (1-800-230-7526).

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:

  • Birth control pills can cause nausea. Take an antinausea medicine such as Dramamine with the first dose and again 1 hour before the second dose.
  • If you vomit within 2 hours of taking the pills, call your doctor for advice. You may need to repeat the dose.
  • Be sure you take the active hormone pills. In a 28-day pack, the first 21 pills contain hormones. The last 7 pills (the ones you take during your period) do not contain any hormones. If you use 21-day packs, all of the pills contain hormones.
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