Health Topics

Healthy Living

September 2009
12 FAQs on Emergency Contraceptive Pills
Dr Usha Bohra
Over the last 15-20 years various types of emergency contraceptive pills have evolved like four pills, two pills taken twelve hours apart within seventy-two hours of unprotected intercourse. However with the recent introduction of 'i-pill' emergency contraception has become more user friendly because only one pill needs to be taken.

Until 2005 Emergency Contraceptive Pill was relatively scarce because it was available only by prescription, but since then the government has made it available over the counter, which means that it can be bought without a prescription. With this change more than 200,000 emergency pills are sold in India every month.

ECP was being practised as early as 1500 B.C. in Egypt in the form of vaginal douches with wine, garlic and fennel. With a single exposure of intercourse around the mid cycle, the chances of pregnancy are around 20-30%. At other times of menstrual cycle it is 10%, therefore it is important that you should use some form of contraception if you do not wish to get pregnant.

What is the Emergency Contraceptive Pill?
Emergency contraceptive pill is a pill used by a woman after having an unprotected intercourse (sex), to prevent her from getting pregnant. It is also known as morning after pill or postcoital pill. However morning after pill is a misleading term because it can be used immediately after having sex or within 72 hours of having sex.

When should you use the emergency contraceptive pill?
If you are not using any other contraceptive methods and you have had intercourse. The condom broke down or came off during the act. If you have missed at-least 2 or 3 of your regular birth control pills, or if you were forced to have sex.

If I get pregnant despite taking ECP, would my baby be abnormal?
No! Studies have shown that there is no increased risk of birth defects if you get pregnant.

How well does the emergency contraceptive pill work?
When used correctly the ECP is 98% effective, which means that if 100 women take ECP only 2 will get pregnant.

Will the use of this pill prevent me from getting pregnant for the rest of the cycle?
The use of ECP is only for 1-2 acts of unprotected sex and that too within 72 hours, if you happen to have sex after 72 hours you should be looking for alternative and regular form of contraception.

Is there a need of routine medical checkup before taking the ECP?
Not really! However if you suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, previous tubal pregnancy, it's a good idea to discuss it with your doctor when going for a health check.

What are the side effects of emergency contraception?
The most common side effect of emergency contraception is nausea and vomiting. The others are headache, cramps, heavy bleeding and a small possibility of ectopic pregnancy. If you have a tendency of nausea, the pills should be taken with an antiemetic tablet. If you throw up within 30 minutes of taking the ECP, you should take another one with an antiemetic.

When should I contact a doctor after taking the ECP?
If you experience the following symptoms:
  • Severe abdominal pain.
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath.
  • Severe headache.
  • Eye problems like blurring of vision.
  • Severe leg or arm pain.
Are emergency contraceptive pills the same thing as abortion pills?
Abortion pills are totally different. They are taken once the pregnancy is confirmed – to terminate the pregnancy. They are to be taken under supervision of a gynecologist. They are not available as over the counter medications.

When should I expect my period after taking ECP?
Your next period may come sooner or later than expected, however most women get their period within 7 days of expected date. Your period may also be heavier or lighter than normal. If you do not get your period within 3 weeks or if you think you could be pregnant, get a pregnancy test done.

Will the ECP prevent me from getting sexually transmitted diseases?
No! ECP can only prevent you from getting pregnant. Always use condoms to lower the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

What is the advantage or disadvantage of the availability of ECP as over the counter medicine?
The major concern with the availability of over the counter emergency contraceptive pills is the misuse of the ECP because of lack of knowledge and lack of sex education and this would slowly replace the use of condoms leading to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS, herpes etc. and that too in a younger population between 18-24 years of age.The biggest advantage of the ECP in India is to prevent unwanted pregnancies and therefore prevent termination of pregnancy under unhygienic and unsafe conditions.
Dr. Usha Bohra is Senior Consultant Gynaecologist Laproscopic & Gynae Onco Surgeon Specialist Medical & High Risk Obstetrics at Apollo Hospitals, Ahmedabad
  • The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.
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