Emergency contraception is used to decrease the risk of pregnancy following unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. Also known as postcoital contraception or EC, the therapy works by preventing pregnancy from occurring and should be used as soon as possible following unprotected sexual intercourse.
The two main types of postcoital contraception are copper IUDs and emergency contraceptive pills, sometimes called “morning after pills”. The copper IUD is considered the most effective EC therapy and works by preventing the sperm from fertilizing the egg. A gynecologist or health care professional must insert the IUD within 5 days following unprotected sex. The copper IUD is effective for up to 10 years and can be removed by a gynecologist at any time when pregnancy is desired.
Side effects of the copper IUD include menstrual pain and bleeding, which typically decrease within the first year of use.
There are three kinds of emergency contraception pills: ulipristal, progestin-only and combined birth control pills. The pills should be taken immediately following intercourse, or for up to 5 days after.
Ulipristal changes the way progesterone works in the body to delay ovulation. The medication requires a prescription from an OBGYN or health care provider and, when taken correctly, is the most effective oral form of emergency contraception.
Progestin-only pills are available over-the-counter and can be purchased without a prescription. One pill is taken in a single dose and is considered moderately effective when taken within 5 days after intercourse. Effectiveness is increased if taken within 3 days following unprotected sex.
The third oral emergency contraception option is combined hormonal birth control pills. The pills, which contain both estrogen and progestin, are administered in two higher-than-average doses and are considered 75 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
Side effects of emergency contraception pills include nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, and breast tenderness. Being overweight may decrease the effectiveness of EC pills.
It is important to note, no form of emergency contraception protects against sexually transmitted infections.