Emergency contraception is the use of a drug or device to prevent (not terminate) pregnancy after unprotected sex or the failure of contraceptives, such as a broken condom. For emergency contraception to be effective, it should be used within 72 hours of a possible "accident" (the sooner the better). Essentially, emergency contraception prevents pregnancy by stopping or delaying the release of an egg and by blocking fertilization of an egg by a sperm. It also tricks a woman's body into thinking the uterus is inhospitable for pregnancy so implantation won't occur.
Two of the most commonly talked about emergency contraceptive products include Plan B (the original emergency contraception) and the newer Plan B One-Step. Plan B, the original two-tablet formulation -- one pill taken immediately after receiving the prescription, the other 12 hours later -- is no longer on the market even though many women still think it is. Today, women seeking emergency contraception are given Plan B One-Step, a single dose pill that works to prevent pregnancy immediately without having to take a second pill.
Recently, a generic two-tablet option received over-the-counter approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although it's not yet available, the process will be similar to that of the original Plan B (a patient will have to take two pills, 12 hours apart).
Previously, women seeking emergency contraceptives needed a doctor's prescription. Now, however, Plan B One-Step is available over-the-counter at pharmacies nationwide. The generic two-pill option will also be available over-the-counter. Emergency contraceptives are available to women and men over the age of 17 without a prescription, but can also be obtained at Planned Parenthood centers, women's health care centers and through a family physician.
Before taking any emergency contraceptive, it's important to weigh the benefits and potential detriments.
Effectiveness: If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, emergency contraceptives are almost 90 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.
Safety: Emergency contraception is relatively safe for women to take as a form of backup birth control. Studies show fertility returns to normal (unless another form of birth control is used) after about a month and no long-term damage is done to a woman's uterus or her menstrual cycle.
Side effects: Many women who take emergency contraceptives report a number of side effects, some mild, others more serious. Common side effects include nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, fluid retention and dizziness.
Protection: Emergency contraceptives may not protect against tubal pregnancies. If after using an emergency contraceptive you experience severe abdominal pain or cramping, contact your physician immediately.
STDs: Emergency contraceptives do not protect against any sexually transmitted diseases.
For more information on emergency contraceptives and available treatment plans, talk to your doctor. For more information on Plan B One Step, visit www.planbonestep.com.
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