In an emergency...

In an emergency...

Oral contraceptive pills should be used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, not terminate one, writes Dr Parimala Devi

Emergency contraceptive pills, also called morning-after pills are hormone pills that may be used by women who have had unprotected sex or when a birth control method fails.

Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) and the copper intrauterine device (IUD) are the two types of emergency contraceptive pills that are used. While the treatment is for specific situations, it isn’t used as a regular method of birth control. Emergencies include being raped, having a condom break or slip off during sex, or missing two or more birth control pills during menstruation. That said, note that emergency oral contraception is used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, not terminate one. These emergency contraception pills work primarily by delaying ovulation.

How does it work?

Emergency contraception averts pregnancy by temporarily blocking eggs from being released, fertilised, and from being implanted in the uterus. The effectiveness of the pill depends on how soon you take the pill. Thus, it is advisable to take the pill within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. 

How effective is it?

An emergency contraceptive pill if taken as directed after unprotected sex, will decrease the odds of a pregnancy occurring. However, the pills may lose its effectiveness in women who are overweight or obese. Nonetheless, they can opt for IUD (a T-shaped device inserted to prevent pregnancy) as an alternative.

Who should avoid these options?

Pregnant women should refrain from using it as it increases the risk of infection. Additionally, women who have distortion of the uterus, pelvic inflammatory disease, miscarriage, cancer of the uterus, cervical cancer, genital bleeding for unknown reasons, and infection of the cervix, should avoid opting for IUD. Furthermore, certain women who are allergic to any of the ingredients or are on other medications should also avoid using ECPs, as the pills may have little or no effect. 

Side effects

Some of the common side effects include fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, headache, menstrual changes, and likewise. It is imperative to understand that emergency contraceptive pills will not protect you from contracting an STD, such as HIV, or the virus that causes AIDS. Thus, limit sexual contact to one uninfected partner to reduce the risk of STD. 

While it is essential to know about the safety of both emergency contraception methods, knowing what type of emergency contraception would work best for you is vital.

(The author is a consultant, obstetrics & gynaecologist.)