Emergency Contraception 101
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What Are My Options?
Several options are available for women who have had unprotected sex or birth control failure. Some of these options include emergency contraception, such as progestin-only pills, combined hormonal birth control pills, and certain intrauterine devices. Your healthcare provider can help you determine which option is most appropriate for your situation.
An Overview of Emergency Contraception OptionsEmergency contraception (EC) is emergency birth control used to reduce the chance of becoming pregnant after unprotected sex or a potential birth control failure. If you are in need of emergency contraception, you have a few options to choose from, including:
- Progestin-only pills (Plan B One-Step™, Next Choice®)
- Combination estrogen plus progestin pills
- The copper intrauterine device (ParaGard®)
- Ulipristal acetate (ella®).
More Information on Emergency Contraception
The following sections provide more detail about the various options available for emergency birth control.
Progestin-only pills contain high levels of the hormone levonorgestrel. Except for Plan B One-Step, which is approved for over-the-counter (OTC) sales with no age restrictions, they are approved for sale without a prescription in the United States to people 17 years of age and older (or, with a prescription, for younger women).
Progestin-only EC options include:
- Plan B
- Next Choice
- Plan B One-Step.
Plan B was the first progestin-only pill approved for use as emergency contraception in the United States. It contains two pills, which are taken 12 hours apart. Each pill contains 0.75 mg of levonorgestrel. The manufacturer of Plan B is no longer making this medication. However, it is still available in a generic version known as Next Choice.
It should be noted that while the instructions for Plan B and Next Choice state that the pills should be taken 12 hours apart, research shows they are just as effective if taken at the same time.
Plan B One-Step is a one-pill, progestin-only EC option. With Plan B One-Step, you take just one pill that contains 1.5 mg of levonorgestrel.
All progestin-only emergency contraceptives are thought to work by delaying or preventing an egg from being released from the ovary (this is known as ovulation). They may also prevent fertilization (when the sperm and egg join).
The manufacturers of progestin-only EC state that the pills must be taken within 72 hours (three days) of unprotected sex. Some research suggests, however, that the medicine may still work if taken within 120 hours (five days).
Progestin-only EC can reduce your risk of becoming pregnant by about 88 percent. This means that if eight women who would have gotten pregnant take progestin-only EC, only one of them will actually become pregnant. These medications are more effective the sooner they are taken after unprotected sex.