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Emergency Contraception - Topic Overview

Where can you get emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception. If you are 15 or older, you can get emergency contraception, such as Plan B One-Step, without a prescription at most drugstores. If you are younger than 15, you need a prescription.

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.

IUD

A doctor or other health professional has to insert an IUD.

How well does it work?

Emergency contraception works very well. The sooner you use it, the more likely it is to prevent pregnancy. Overall:

  • Emergency contraception, such as Plan B, can prevent an average of about 74% of pregnancies.1
  • If a woman takes emergency contraception on the fourth or fifth day after unprotected sex, ulipristal (such as Ella) may work better than levonorgestrel (such as Plan B).2
  • The copper IUD is more than 99% effective. Only about 2 women out of 1,000 who use it for emergency contraception will get pregnant.3

If you haven't started your period within 3 weeks after using emergency contraception, get a pregnancy test.

1|2|3

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 22, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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