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Is Emergency Contraception Right for Me?

Many women will need emergency contraception during their lifetime. It is estimated that about half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintentional. Unfortunately, there is no way to know for certain if you will become pregnant from a sexual encounter. However, if you have had sex in the past 72 to 120 hours (three to five days) and do not want to become pregnant, you might consider EC.
 
Some of the reasons to consider emergency contraception include:
 
  • You did not use birth control
  • Your partner used a condom, but it broke or slipped off
  • Your diaphragm or cervical cap came out or broke
  • You take birth control pills and have missed taking some of them
  • You were more than two weeks late in getting your birth control shot (Depo-Provera®)
  • You were forced to have sex
  • You have any reason to believe your regular form of birth control failed.
 

How Does It Work?

It is thought that emergency contraception pills work by delaying or preventing ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary). This is the same manner in which all hormonal contraceptives work, including birth control pills and the birth control patch.
 
Emergency contraception pills may also prevent the sperm from joining the egg (fertilization) and prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. The copper IUD works by preventing fertilization, but it might also prevent implantation.
 

Is It Effective?

Yes -- emergency contraception is effective at preventing pregnancy. Studies have shown that EC pills may decrease the risk of pregnancy by up to 94 percent, especially if taken within 24 hours after unprotected sex. The intrauterine device is even more effective, reducing pregnancy risk by up to 99 percent.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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