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What is EC?
Emergency contraception (EC) is taken to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. It works best if it is used as soon as possible, but can be taken up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex.
If your health care provider won't prescribe EC, check out the list of clinics to see who will.
If your health care provider doesn't keep EC at the clinic, most major supermarket and pharmacy chains carry EC and will fill your prescription. They include Safeway, City Market, Albertsons, King Soopers, Costco, Rite Aid, Longs, Walgreens and Target. Many independent pharmacies will also fill a prescription for EC. As an official policy, Wal-Mart pharmacies will not stock or dispense EC.
How does EC work?
EC can work in several ways:
- It stops the ovary from releasing an egg.
- It thickens the mucus in the cervix so sperm can't get through.
- It changes the lining of the uterus so that a fertilized egg can't attach and become a pregnancy.
EC works 76-99 percent of the time, depending on when in your cycle you have unprotected sex and how soon afterward you take EC.
What kinds of EC are available?
Plan B® is the only emergency contraceptive product that is currently available. Plan B contains two pills, one taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, the other pill twelve hours after that. Certain brands of daily birth control pills and the Copper-T IUD can also be used as EC. (The IUD can be inserted up to eight days after unprotected sex.)
When may you need EC?
There are many instances when you may need emergency contraception. Some examples include:
- The condom broke or slipped off.
- You forgot to take your birth control pills, or you started the pack late.
- He didn't pull out in time, or he ejaculated on the outside of your vagina.
- You were sexually assaulted or raped.
Does EC cause an abortion?
No. EC should not be confused with Mifeprex® (RU 486), which is commonly known as the "abortion pill." EC prevents pregnancy, while Mifeprex terminates an early pregnancy.
There is no reason to take EC if you already know you are pregnant. However, if you are pregnant (or if EC doesn't work and you become pregnant after you take it), you should know that there have been no reports of EC harming the woman or the developing pregnancy.
Does EC have side effects?
Some women have mild side effects with EC. They should be only temporary and can include:
- Upset stomach or vomiting
- Headache or dizziness
- Sore breasts
- Spotting (drops of blood in your underwear) or irregular bleeding
It helps to take EC with food and liquids. If you think you may have vomited the pills, you should get another dose and take it with an anti-nausea medication.
When should I expect my period?
After you take EC, you should get on a reliable method of birth control, if you are not already. Your next period could be early or late and could be light or heavy. You should visit your health care provider if:
- Your period does not start within four weeks after taking EC.
- You think you are pregnant or have signs of pregnancy like nausea, fatigue and/or breast tenderness.