Emergency Contraception FAQ

Who needs emergency contraception?

If you had unprotected sex and don't want to get pregnant right now, you may want emergency contraception. Like other forms of birth control, emergency contraception stops you from getting pregnant. The difference is that you can take it after you had sex. Emergency contraception pills are different from drugs used to end a pregnancy.

Emergency contraception works well, but it's not a substitute for regular birth control. Regular birth control works better, has fewer side effects, and costs less. As the name suggests, emergency birth control is only for emergencies, not something to use all the time.

What are my options?

Most types are pills. Examples include Ella (ulipristal acetate) and Plan B One-Step (levonorgestrel.) You can also buy generic levonorgestrel pills, like My Way and Next Choice One Dose.

An IUD -- a small device that a doctor inserts into the uterus -- also works as emergency contraception.

Research shows that Plan B One-Step starts to lose its effectiveness in women heavier than 165 pounds and is not recommend for anyone over this weight. Instead, a copper-releasing IUD

is the suggested option for emergency contraception in this group.

How long after having sex will emergency contraception still work?

That depends. Plan B One-Step and generic levonorgestrel work best if you take them within 3 days after sex, but they may work up to 5 days after sex. Ella and the IUD can work up to 5 days after sex. However, those are only averages. What really matters is where you are in your cycle. If you have sex when you're fertile, waiting several days to take emergency contraception could be too late. That's why experts say you should use it as soon as possible after having sex.

Where can I get it?

Emergency contraception is available at drugstores, health departments, women's health centers, and hospitals. Depending on your age, you don’t need a prescription for most brands. You do need a prescription for Ella and some other types.

Can anyone buy over-the-counter emergency contraception pills?

In 2013, the FDA allowed pharmacies to sell one brand, Plan B One-Step, without a prescription, over-the-counter, without any age restrictions. But not all pharmacies are selling it that way yet.

Other types of over-the-counter emergency contraception, like My Way and Next Choice One Dose, have age restrictions. You need to have ID showing that you're 17 or older. If you're 16 or younger, you need a prescription.

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How much will it cost?

Prices vary from store to store. A survey found that the average cost for Plan B One-Step is $48. Generic levonorgestrel is a little cheaper at $42. But you might find prices that are much lower or higher. If you have insurance, prescription pills should cost less because you have to pay only the copay.

What are the side effects? Is it safe?

Emergency contraception is safe. Most people don't have any side effects from the pills. But you may have mild ones, like nausea, mild stomach pain, and headache. If you have severe nausea, your doctor may be able to give you medicine that helps. You may also have spotting, and your next period may come a few days earlier or later.

What if I throw up after taking the medication? Am I still protected?

Emergency contraception pills can sometimes cause vomiting. As long as you throw up more than two hours after you took it, you should be fine. The medicine should be in your system. If you throw up within two hours of taking it, call your doctor or pharmacist. You may need to take a drug to settle your stomach and then take a second dose of the emergency contraception.

What if I'm already pregnant and take emergency contraception?

If you think you're already pregnant, don't take emergency contraception. The hormones in Plan B One-Step or generic levonorgestrel won't work at that point. You should not take Ella if you think you might be pregnant. It may not be safe.

Will taking more than one type of emergency contraception improve my odds?

No. One kind could block the effect of the other. Stick to one type and follow the directions.

How long does an emergency contraception pill last? Can I have sex again and still be protected?

Be careful. The pills may just delay ovulation, not stop it. If you have sex a second time, your risks of getting pregnant are higher. Be safe and use other protection instead.

Can I use emergency contraception pills more than once in a month?

You should use Ella only once in your cycle. You can use Plan B One-Step and generic levonorgestrel more than once. But if you're relying on it often, you should use regular birth control instead.

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Is there a way I can use regular birth control pills as emergency contraception?

At a higher dose, regular birth control pills -- with progesterone and estrogen -- can work as emergency contraception. But don’t do this without talking to your doctor.

After taking an emergency contraceptive pill, when should I start using regular birth control again?

If you use condoms, a diaphragm, or a similar type of birth control, start using it right away. If you take birth control pills or use the patch or a vaginal ring -- but missed some doses -- start using them the next day. But you'll need to use a backup, like condoms, for at least a week

Will emergency contraception affect my fertility in the future?

No. Taking emergency contraception does not affect your ability to have a baby later. If you got an IUD for emergency contraception, a doctor will need to remove it before you can get pregnant.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on January 23, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Society for Emergency Contraception: "The Cost of Emergency Contraception: Results from a Nationwide Survey."

Anne Elizabeth Burke, MD, associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics, director of family planning, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Kelly Cleland, MPA, MPH, researcher, Office of Population Research, Princeton University.

FamilyDoctor: "Emergency Contraception."

Alexandra Gold, MD, fellow in family planning, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

HealthyChildren.org: "Emergency Contraception."

Office of Population Research at Princeton University: The Emergency Contraception Web Site: " Emergency Contraceptive Pills;" "Progestin-only Emergency Contraceptive Pills;" "Safety;" "Side Effects;" and "Types of Emergency Contraception."

UpToDate: "Emergency Contraception."

Healthy Canadians web site.

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