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The emergency contraception controversy

Sarah Kelsey is a lifestyle writer, editor and spokesperson based in Toronto. She was the editor of AOL/The Huffington Post Canada’s StyleList, Style and Living sites. Today, she's a freelancer writing for some of North America’s top pub...

Emergency contraceptives

Emergency contraceptives are a controversial topic and many of the facts circulating about them are either incorrect or outdated. To end the confusion, SheKnows.com has created an emergency contraception guide to keep you informed of your options.

Woman with plan b pillsWhat is emergency contraception?

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.

Emergency contraceptives

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).

Where can emergency contraceptives be found?

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.

Emergency contraception pros and cons

Before taking any emergency contraceptive, it's important to weigh the benefits and potential detriments.

Benefits of emergency contraceptives

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.

Down side of emergency contraceptives

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.

Know your birth control options

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