Emergency Contraception: Side-effects and Methods

Is unprotected sex turning into a nightmare? Is it raising unwanted doubts and increasing fear as the time tics away? Many women around the world face this situation. When such a moment in life arises, Emergency Contraception (EC) is a great fall back option or plan B to avert the unforeseen circumstances. Although the good old and the safest form of contraception is to have the protection on.  Unfortunately, sometimes things can go way out of hand and for all such times EC is the last resort.

A run-through on Emergency Contraception:

Emergency contraception (EC) is a term that covers the methods used for preventing unwanted pregnancy due to unprotected sexual intercourse or contraception failure. EC can prevent up to over 95% of pregnancies if taken within 5 days after intercourse. EC is more effective when taken immediately after the act, the sooner the better is the apt mantra to be followed.

Can I use EC or no?

In general, any woman or girl of reproductive age can use EC when the need arises. There are no age limits for the use of EC. However, it is important to be aware that frequent use of EC can increase certain side-effects like menstrual irregularities, although their repeated use poses no known health risks.

When do I need EC?

In case you are still in two minds whether there is a need for EC or no, here is the list of situations that may prompt the usage of EC:

  • Unprotected intercourse

  • Concerns about possible contraceptive failure 

  • Incorrect use of contraceptives

  • Sexual assault

What are the methods of emergency contraception?

At present, EC is achieved by the Copper intrauterine device (IUD) and EC pills or the Morning after pills. Emergency Contraception pills are of three types:

  • Ulipristal

  • Progestin-only pills

  • Combined EC pills

Generally, EC pills are required to be taken within 72 hours to be effective.  IUD insertion requires a doctor visit.

Shifting to regular contraception:

If a copper IUD is used as an emergency, there is no additional protection required.

If using, Progestin-only or combined pills, women can start any contraception method immediately, including a copper IUD.

If using Ulipristal, they can start EC pills from the 6th day onwards. They can also opt for a Progestin-IUD immediately if it can be determined they are not pregnant or also go ahead with a copper IUD.

Have you wondered how EC works in the system!

The concepts of action of EC is pretty old and safe.  Emergency contraceptive pills introduce certain hormones into our system. These hormones interact with the hormones present in our body to prevent ovulation and hence pregnancy.

The copper IUD form of emergency contraception is the most effective type of contraception. It inhibits the implantation of an embryo in the woman's womb and thus prevents pregnancy. When an IUD is inserted, the appearance and chemistry of the womb are altered, and these changes prevent implantation of the embryo.

Safety Check - last but not the least

The best way to avoid unwanted pregnancy is to use a condom, as it is completely safe and also protects from sexually transmitted diseases. EC should be the last resort.

EC pills do not cause any serious complications. There may be alterations in time of the next period and irregular bleeding in a week or month after taking EC pills. Other short-term side effects of EC pills include – headache, nausea and vomiting, breast tenderness and abdominal pain.

A copper-bearing IUD is the safest emergency contraception. 



Dr. Leena N Sreedhar

HOD - Department Of Academics And Research

Consultant - Mother & Child Care, Obstetrics & Gynaecology

Manipal Hospitals, Dwarka, Delhi

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