A contraceptive campaign that came out a while back—“Stand Proud…Carry a Condom”—caused quite a stir amongst the more conservative members of society, the concern being that it could cause teenagers to begin having sex prematurely. Another school of thought, however, is that promoting safe contraception is far better than a new baby being born to underage parents who are not ready for the burden of that responsibility.
Likewise when it comes to emergency contraceptive pills, the purpose of these is to prevent pregnancies from unprotected sex in cases where contraceptives and control were not used to begin with. It is important, though, that one should understand the properties of the drug, the possible effects after taking the pills, and, most importantly, how to take them correctly.
Understanding Emergency Contraceptive Pills
Emergency contraceptive pills can be either progestin-only (these do not contain estrogen) or combination pills (containing both progestin and estrogen). Emergency pills can prevent the risk of unplanned pregnancies with approximately 80-90 percent effectiveness, depending on how long after intercourse they are taken.
Emergency contraceptive pills should be used in cases of unprotected sex where no other contraceptives were taken or in cases of errors or failed contraception. Such scenarios include, for example, a condom that breaks or leaks during sex, a miscount of the menstrual cycle and the “safe” days, or forgetting to take your normal birth control pills for more than 3 days, as well as in cases of sexual assault or nonconsensual sex.
Emergency contraceptive pills are called “emergency” pills for a reason—they should only be used in cases of emergencies. This is because while they are known to be an effective option for preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex, this does not mean they are 100% effective or failsafe. Emergency contraceptive pills also offer no protection against sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDs.
The Right Way to Take Emergency Contraceptive Pills
When you buy emergency contraceptive pills, you will receive a small strip or panel containing two 0.75 mg tablets. These should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex for the greatest effectiveness. There are two possible ways to take these tablets, both of which will provide different results. They are as follows:
- Take both tablets together at the same time immediately (or as soon as possible) after having sex.
- Take the first tablet as soon as possible after sex, and the second tablet 12 hours later. The downside of this is that taking the second pill 12 hours later often means that people forget to take it altogether. There is also a misconception that taking just the 1 pill is sufficient, thus resulting in incomplete contraception.
- If you are unable to take the pills immediately, you can take them later, but the timing should not exceed 3 days or 72 hours after having sex.
- You should retake the medication if you have vomited within 2 hours of taking it.
- If you have sex again between or during pill dosages, there is no need to add or repeat the original dose as doing so will not provide any additional effect or prevention.
- You should not take emergency contraceptive pills more than twice (meaning a total of 4 pills) per month, as doing so can cause abnormal hormone secretion by the reproductive system.
- Only use emergency contraceptive pills in cases of emergency—when unprotected intercourse has occurred, because frequent use of emergency contraceptive pills may result in ineffective contraception. You should not use emergency contraceptive pills as a substitute to regular birth control pills.
- If you are already pregnant or you suspect you may be pregnant, you should not use emergency contraceptive pills.
Possible Side Effects and Precautions
There is a fairly high risk of side effects attached to the use of contraceptive pills due to the effect of the drug on the endometrium. Abnormal conditions and side effects after frequent use of emergency contraceptives include:
- Nausea or vomiting. These are usually experienced shortly after taking the drug.
- Headaches or abdominal pain. In some cases, the body may resist the pill or it may have to adjust according to the changes in hormones, thus resulting in a head or stomach ache.
- Irregular menstruation may be an ongoing side effect.
- Possible risk of ectopic pregnancy.
- Some studies have found that emergency contraceptive pills may cause a calcium deficiency, resulting in osteoporosis in the future.
Before using these kinds of drugs, always consult with your doctor or pharmacist. In addition, if, after taking the pill, you experience any abnormal symptoms, especially if there is any vaginal bleeding or if you miss your period, and of course if you suspect you are pregnant, you should be sure to seek medical attention as soon as possible in order to have any abnormal conditions diagnosed correctly.
While emergency contraceptives are useful in preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex, there are also potential risks alongside the benefits. Overuse or frequent use of emergency contraceptive pills or use of the pill without a proper and thorough understanding of the correct usage could result in reproductive system abnormalities in the future. Additionally, emergency contraceptive pills are not guaranteed to be 100% effective and they offer no protection against sexually transmitted infections. In order to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, using the condom method is strongly recommended.