Emergency contraception pills are a back-up birth control method that is used after unprotected sex or in the event of a known contraceptive failure such as condom breaking.
Emergency contraception (EC), also known as “the morning-after pill,” can be used as back-up birth control method after unprotected sex or in the event of a known contraceptive failure, like condom breaking. It needs to be taken with in a few days and should not be used as a regular contraceptive method. EC is not similar to medical abortion drugs — mifepristone (RU-486) or methotrexate.
Like any other drug it has good and bad effects. Since its launch in India the massive publicity campaigns have considerably increased the use of ECP. There are concern regarding the increased sexual activity among teenagers and its indiscriminate use. However it helps to prevent unintended pregnancies and side effects are insignificant as compared to an abortion."
What types of ECPs that are used and how effective are they
The commonly use types of ECPs contain either only a progestin (levonorgestrel) or both estrogen (ethinyl estradiol) and progestin (levonorgestrel or norgestrel). They are used for contraception after unprotected sex or in the event of a known contraceptive failure like condom breaking to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy. Pill which contains only levonorgestrel have fewer side effects and is more effective as compared to pill containing both an estrogen and a progestin.
The ECP should be taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. The efficacy is higher when used soon after unprotected intercourse - 90-95 per cent when taken within 12 hours, 85 per cent when taken between 25-48 hours and about 58 per cent between 61-72 hours. The ECP can be used immediately after intercourse and you need not wait till the next morning even though it is called "morning after pill". The sooner it is used the lower the chance of failure. It is effective only once and does not offer protection against pregnancy till the next menstrual cycle.
How does ECP work
ECP can work in one of three different ways depending on the phase of menstrual cycle you are in
- May prevent ovulation (release of egg from the ovary).
- If ovulation has occurred it may prevent fertilization.
- If the egg is fertilized, it may prevent the fertilized egg from attaching to the lining of the womb.
It does not work if the pregnancy is established (i.e. the fertilized egg has attached itself lining of the uterus or womb). It is not similar to an medical abortion drugs such as mifepristone (RU-486) or methotrexate. According to doctors the ECP should be taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. The sooner the ECP is taken the higher the efficacy--90-95 per cent when taken within 12 hours, 85 per cent when taken between 25-48 hours and about 58 per cent between 61-72 hours.
How safe is ECP
According to World Health Organization there are no absolute contraindications to the use of ECPs as they have a small overall hormone dose. The ECPs do not harm the developing fetus. But ECP must be used only in case of an emergency like failure of other kinds of contraceptive methods like the rupture of a condom or after unprotected or forced sex.
Is repeated use of ECPs harmful
Repeat use of ECPs may not cause any significant health risks but doctor’s advice against the use of ECP like a regular contraceptive pill. Most married women do not regularly use ECP, but the unmarried women may have a tendency to use the morning-after pills repeatedly within the same cycle. Studies suggest that use of levonorgestrel-only ECPs even four times a month did not cause any significant negative health risks. However repeated use of ECP can cause irregular bleeding which can be a cause of confusion as vaginal bleeding can be an indication of several other conditions. Repeat use of a ECPs, is an indication that a woman needs to be counseled about routine contraceptive methods as they are more effective.
Do ECPs prevent sexually transmitted infections
An ECP does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or HIV.
Is an ECP similar to an abortion pill
No they are not the same. An ECP should not be mistaken for an abortion pill. As ECP does not contain antiprogestin it will not prevent progression or development of pregnancy after it has occurred. It can prevent pregnancy before it has occurred.
Does ECP harm the fetus
At times a woman can become pregnant, even after taking the pill, and may remain unaware of it. If you become pregnant even after use of an ECP, you can continue the pregnancy if desired. ECP is not harmful to the unborn child.
Does it have side effects
The common side effects of ECP are nausea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue and breast fullness or tenderness. These are short term and usually last for a day or two. Some women may have irregular bleeding, or delayed periods (delay of 3-4 days). If you have severe abdominal pain or the periods are delayed more than 7-8 days consult a doctor.
You should preferably consult your doctor before taking ECP albeit it is considered safe for most women.
Facts to be considered about the ECP
- ECP should be taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.
- ECP can be used immediately after intercourse and you need not wait till the next morning even though it is called "morning after pill".
- Preferably take it after a meal to avoid nausea.
- If the ECP fails and you conceive after the pill, the fetus is not affected. You can continue the pregnancy if desired.
- ECP does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or HIV.
- It should not be considered as a substitute for a regular oral contraceptive pills.
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