Although unplanned pregnancy is preventable, none of the current methods are 100% effective. Accidents can and do happen. Condoms break, a pill gets missed, or your body rejects the shot. No matter which way it happens, it is possible to get pregnant, even if you are on a reliable birth control method.
Fortunately, there are a few forms of emergency contraception on the market. The three most common methods are progestin only pills, combined pills, and copper intrauterine devices. Each method has benefits and drawbacks.
Progestin pills only contain the hormone progesterone. This hormone works by preventing an egg from implanting on the side of the uterus. The two most popular forms of progestin only pills are levonorgestrel and ulipristal acetate.
Levonorgestrel is available without a prescription and is the easiest to get. You can find it under the names Plan B One-Step, Take Action, Next Choice One Dose, After Pill, and several others. It also has several side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headache. Levonorgestrel is about 87% effective when you take it within 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex.
Ulipristal acetate is available as a prescription and requires a visit to your doctor. It is also known by its brand name Ella. The side effects of ulipristal acetate are similar to levonorgestrel. When taken within 120 hours (6 days) after unprotected sex, it is 93% to 94% effective.
Combined Estrogen and Progestin Pills
Combined estrogen and progestin pills come in two doses, and depending on where you live might require a prescription. You take one dose within 72 hours (3 days) of unprotected sex and then another dose 12 hours later. This combination is sometimes trademarked under the name Plan B Two-Step.
Combined pills are around 75% effective when taken correctly. It has similar side effects as progestin-only pills. This form of emergency pregnancy prevention is slowly being phased out in favor of more effective pills but is still on the market.
Copper Intrauterine Devices
Copper intrauterine devices (IUDs) are one of the oldest methods of preventing pregnancy. A doctor will implant this t-shaped device into your uterus, and once the risk of pregnancy has passed, he or she removes it. The device works by irritating the uterine wall. It should prevent an egg from implanting itself in the uterus.
Mostly marketed under the brand name Paragard, this device is by far the most effective method. If a doctor inserts it within five days, it has a 99.9% success rate. Only one out of 1,000 women tested became pregnant after unprotected sex.
Unfortunately, it is the most invasive and has the highest risk of side effects. Some of the side effects of copper IUDs are pelvic pain, abdominal pain, ectopic pregnancy, infection, painful periods and signs of pregnancy. Some patients also report difficulty getting pregnant after a doctor removes the IUD.
No matter which form you choose, it is essential to examine all the potential risks and side effects as well as the potential effectiveness of each type. Although you should choose a method as soon as possible, you should also consider all of the facts. As with all medication, speak with your doctor before using any form of emergency pregnancy prevention.