Learning About Emergency Contraception Pills

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What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception is used to prevent pregnancy. You can use it if you were sexually assaulted (raped) or you had unprotected sex. Or you can use it if you think your birth control didn't work. For example, you may use it if a condom breaks.

If you had sex without birth control, you could get pregnant. This is true even if you have not started your periods yet or are close to menopause.

If you use emergency contraception right away, it might prevent an unplanned pregnancy. It can also keep you from worrying while you wait for your next period.

Emergency contraception pills do not work as well as other types of birth control. If it is important to you to prevent pregnancy, talk to your doctor about the best kind of regular birth control for you.

How well does it work?

If you are overweight or obese, emergency contraception pills may not work as well to prevent a pregnancy. Talk with your doctor about methods of emergency contraception that aren't affected by weight, such as an IUD.

This information focuses on using progestin-only pills that are packaged specially for use as emergency contraception. These are often called "morning-after pills." There are other methods of emergency contraception. But they are not covered in this information.

How do you use emergency contraception pills?

  • Always follow the directions in the package. In general:
    • The pills come in 1-pill or 2-pill packages. If you choose the package with 2 pills, you can take both pills at the same time. Or you can take 1 pill right away and the second pill 12 hours later.
    • You can use these pills up to 5 days after unprotected sex. But it works best if you take them right away or within 48 hours.
    • The pills won't protect you for the rest of your cycle. Use your regular method of birth control. Or use condoms until you have a period.

What else do you need to know?

  • If you are already pregnant, emergency contraception pills won't hurt the baby.
  • After you use the pills, your next period may be early or late. If your next period does not start within 3 weeks, call your doctor for a pregnancy test. Or you can take a home pregnancy test.
  • The pills do not protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes or HIV/AIDS.
  • The pills may cause spotting or mild side effects like those of birth control pills. They usually don't cause nausea. Call your doctor if you have a headache, feel dizzy, or have belly pain that is severe or that lasts longer than 1 week.
  • You can get emergency contraception without a prescription at most drugstores.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.