Emergency Contraceptive Pill FAQ


Emergency Contraceptives Pills (ECPs):
Frequently Asked Questions
 
What are emergency contraceptives pills (ECPs)?
• They are FDA approved, over-the-counter medications used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or birth control failure.
• ECPs contain levonorgestrel, one of the same active ingredients found in many oral contraceptives. The dose of levonorgestrel contained in ECPs is higher than the regular dose found in oral contraceptives.
• Examples ECPs include Plan B®, Plan B One-Step®, Next Choice®, and My Way®.
 
How do they work?
• They work mainly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation). This is also how the medication in oral contraceptives work. It may also prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg or by preventing the attachment of the fertilized egg to the uterus.
 
How effective are they?
• When taken as directed, ECPs prevent 7 out of 8 potential pregnancies. They are most effective when taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex or birth control failure.
 
How should they be taken?
• They may be given as one dose or two doses separated by 12 hours. Women should follow the labeled instructions.
• ECPs should be taken within 72 hours or 3 days after unprotected sex or birth control failure. The sooner the drug is taken after unprotected sex, the more effective it is at preventing pregnancy.
 
What are the potential side effects of use?
• These include many of the side effects of oral contraceptive pills like nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, headache, dizziness, and breast tenderness. If you experience vomiting within 2 hours of taking an ECP, you should contact your healthcare provider as an additional dose may be needed.
• Some women may experience menstrual changes such as spotting or bleeding before their next cycle or an early or late cycle. If a cycle is more than one week late, a pregnancy test should be given. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you have severe abdominal pain as this may be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy.
 
Should ECPs be used routinely?
• No, ECPs should not be used as routine birth control. A different contraceptive method such as condoms, oral contraceptives, rings, or patches should be the primary method and products such as Plan B are for emergency use only. These other methods are less expensive, more reliable, and cause fewer side effects than ECPs.
 
What else should I know about ECPs?
• They DO NOT protect against sexual transmitted infections such as HIV.
• They are not the abortion pill (RU-486).
• They will not stop or harm an existing pregnancy.
 
How are they supplied and how much do they cost?
• They are supplied over-the-counter and typically cost around $40-50 per use.
 
References:
• Levonorgestrel. In: Lexi-Comp [AUHSOP Intranet] Hudson, OH: Lexi-Comp, Inc. Copyright 1978-2012 [updated 2013 Jun, cited 2013 Oct
16]. [about 2 p.]. Available from: http://online.lexi.com/lco/action/doc/retrieve/docid/patch_f/7170
• PL Detail-Document, Routine Use of Emergency Contraception...Is It Safe?. Pharmacist's Letter 2011; 27(6):270612.
• Plan B One-Step. [Updated 2013 Jul, cited on 2013 Oct 16]. Available from: http://planbonestep.com/hcp

Last Updated: 10/28/2013