Emergency Contraceptive Pills – What and How?


What are Emergency Contraceptive Pills ?

Emergency contraception is a method of birth control that can be used by a woman who has had unprotected sex or used birth control that failed. Emergency contraception can prevent over 90% of pregnancies. These pills prevent pregnancy and is advised to be taken 5 days. It is more effective when taken sooner than later after intercourse.

Emergency Contraceptive Pills

These pills however are also used in cases where one is sexually assaulted, possible contraceptive failure, incorrect use of contraceptives, had a condom break during intercourse or missed two or more birth control pills during monthly cycle. Emergency contraceptive pills only prevent pregnancy, but do not end one. It does not protect against STDs (sexually transmitted disease), neither does it induce abortion.

How do They Work?

No single working of action has been confirmed for emergency contraception. The mode of action depends on the day of the menstrual cycle on which intercourse occurs, the time during the cycle when the emergency contraceptive is taken, and the type of emergency contraceptive.

How do They Work

Emergency contraceptive pills work by temporarily blocking or delaying the release of the egg from the ovaries, hence stopping fertilization. Another way it works, is also by keeping a fertilized egg from being embedded in the uterus. These pills prevent the sperm from fertilising the egg but does not work if the egg is fertilised. Emergency contraception cannot interrupt an established pregnancy or harm a developing embryo.

Methods of Emergency Contraception

The 4 methods of emergency contraception are:

  • ECPs containing  ulipristal acetate
  • ECPs containing levonorgestrel
  • Combined oral contraceptive pills
  • Copper-bearing intrauterine devices

Side Effects of ECP

Side Effects

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting or aversion to food
  • Tenderness of breasts
  • Headache
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding or in-between periods
  • Pain or cramps in lower abdomen

If vomiting occurs within 2 hours of taking a dose, the dose should be repeated.

Procedures Required Before Taking ECP?

No medical examination or pregnancy tests is required for authorization of emergency contraceptive pills. Emergency contraception should not be held up in order to test for pregnancy. Administration of these emergency contraceptive should not be rejected as the intercourse could have occurred on a non-fertile day of the menstruation cycle.

When to Take ECP?

Treatment should begin as soon as possible after unsafe sexual intercourse to maximize effectiveness. Ulipristal acetate’s efficacy continues for 5 days after copulation. Levonorgestrel after unprotected sex can be used up to 72 hours

Insertion of a copper IUD should be executed immediately after unprotected or inappropriately protected intercourse. It is functional when placed up to 5 days after intercourse .

What Clinical Follow-up is Needed After Use of Emergency Contraception?

A scheduled follow-up is not required after use of emergency contraception. Although, a medical evaluation is indicated for women:

  • Who have used ECP if her menstrual cycle has been delayed by a week or more after the expected time
  • If frequent irregular bleeding or lower abdominal pain develops. These symptoms could indicate a spontaneous pregnancy loss or an ectopic pregnancy.

Clinical Follow-up

Women & girls are at risk of an unintended pregnancy and  have a right to retrieve emergency contraceptive pills. Emergency contraception should be united into health care amenities because the population is at risk of exposure to unprotected sex, including sexual assault care and facility for women and young ladies living in compassionate settings.



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