Birth control pills, also called oral contraceptives, are medications you take by mouth to prevent pregnancy. They're an effective method of birth control. The emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) is a pill that is taken after unprotected sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy. The ECP is to be taken up to 72 hours after sex (three days). However, in some cases, it is still effective up to four to five days after sex.

Sexual intercourse or sex is the physical sexual contact between individuals that involves the genitalia (male or female reproductive organs) of at least one person, either of the men or of females.

ECP is sometimes called "the morning-after pill," "the day after pill," or "morning-after contraception or postcoital pill”. ECPs are considered 96-98% effective in preventing pregnancy.

The word “Emergency” is important to note. If you are sexually active or planning to be, don't use emergency contraception as your only protection against pregnancy. 

If you think of it as a miracle pill, you should know about the dangerous side- effects of these pills. Read on to understand important facts about emergency contraceptive pills. Before we dive into the facts, let's take a quick look at how emergency contraceptive pills work.  

How Do Emergency Contraceptive Pills Work?

Know that pregnancy happens when a man's sperm (male reproductive cell or gamete) fertilizes a woman's egg (female reproductive cell or gamete), which happens as a result of sexual intercourse. During sex, semen (organic fluid secreted by the male reproductive organ that contains sperms) is ejaculated from the man's penis into the woman's vagina. The penis is the primary male sex organ and the vagina is the primary female sex or reproductive organ.

A man's semen contains millions of sperm. When one of these sperms fertilize with an egg of a woman, pregnancy happens.

ECP is taken to prevent pregnancy. They work in either of the following ways:

  • Stops or delays the release of an egg from your ovaries (the primary female sex organ) until the sperm aren’t active in your body anymore.

  • Prevents the sperm from fertilizing an egg by changing the way the sperm moves in your body.

The ECP will not work once the egg has been fertilized and also does not pose any risk or harm to you or a developing embryo (early stages of development of a cellular organism).

10 Things About Emergency Contraceptives You Should Know

1. The emergency contraceptive pill is not an abortion pill (medications in the form of a pill to end an unwanted pregnancy). It stops pregnancy but cannot terminate it. Therefore it is ineffective if you are already pregnant.

2. The pill is to be taken soon after unprotected sex. It should be taken preferably within 24 hours and before 72 hours or else the pill may turn useless. The emergency contraceptive pill is about 96-98% effective only if taken in time.

3. It does not offer protection against HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). STDs are infections transmitted through sexual contact, caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks your body's immune system. If not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). 

4. Consult your doctor before taking an emergency contraceptive pill if you are on long-term medication for any ailment or disease. 

5. Nausea, breast tenderness, delayed menstruation, lower abdominal ache, headache, vomiting, and irregular menstruation are some of the temporary side-effects of emergency contraceptive pills. 

However, these effects subside within a day or two depending on your metabolism (sum total of all chemical reactions that provide energy for daily activities) and your overall health.

6. The emergency contraceptive pill is to be used only as an emergency contraceptive method. It should not be used as a regular contraceptive method and can be quite unhealthy if taken more than twice a month.

The most common regular contraception method is using a condom during sexual intercourse. A condom is a sheath-shaped barrier device used during sexual intercourse to reduce the probability of pregnancy, usually worn by a male. 

Another contraception method is using an IUD (Intrauterine device). IUD, also known as intrauterine contraceptive device or coil, is a small, T-shaped birth control device that is inserted into your uterus (inverted pear-shaped muscular organ) to prevent pregnancy.

7. According to researchers, emergency pills can reduce sexual interest or lower your libido (sexual desire); lead to skin allergies, severe headaches and also prepone your periods (or menstruation which is the regular monthly bleeding of your uterine wall through the vagina). 

8. A woman who has an allergy to the components in contraceptive pills must consult a doctor before taking/using such pills.

9. The emergency pill is only safe if you are between the ages of 25 and 45. It is not the best contraceptive method for teenagers (girls in the age group between 13 and 19). 

10. Emergency contraceptives are hormonal pills and their long time usage can lead to severe menstrual problems or even ovarian damage.

Although the emergency contraceptive pill is commonly taken and is a common method of emergency contraception, resorting to it every time is not ideal. Consult your gynaecologist to know more.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.