Published October 14, 2010
Last week, we discussed the topic of emergency contraception-what it is, how it works, and where it is available. But the question remains-is it safe?
The short answer is -- Yes.
Plan B, Plan B One Step, and Next Choice are the three over-the-counter pills available in the United States to women over the age of 17. They all contain levonorgestrel, which is a progestin hormone found in most birth control pills.
Many daily birth control pills contain both estrogen and progestin hormones. These pills HAVEbeen associated with a small but significant increase in the risk of stroke and blood clots, especially in women over the age of 35 who smoke.
Long-term use of estrogen/progestin combination birth control pills may also affect a woman's fertility, and in some studies, have demonstrated a very small increase in the incidence of breast, cervical, and liver cancers. Most of these risks disappear within 5-10 years of stopping the pill.
These risks are not associated with emergency contraception. Even though the dose contains higher concentrations of hormone at one time, it is given over a shorter period (24 hours) and leaves the body within a few days. These pills are not intended for routine usage.
What are the side effects?
Up to a third of women who take emergency contraception may experience nausea or vomiting. If you vomit within two hours of taking the pill, speak with your doctor about whether or not it is necessary to take an additional tablet.
Other side effects that occur in less than 10 percent of women can include: -Fatigue -Breast tenderness -Dizziness -Headache -Upset stomach
The only contraindication to emergency contraception is pregnancy, not because it will harm the woman or the pregnancy, but because it offers no use or benefit to the patient.
Does it interact with other medications?
The herbal medication Saint John's wort, as well as some anti-seizure medications may reduce the efficacy of emergency contraception, so check with your doctor if you are taking any medications or herbal supplements regularly.
Bottom line: The decision to take emergency contraception or utilize any form of birth control is a personal one. Speak with your health care provider early to discuss which options may be right for you.
***NOTE: Dr. Tania Mucci is not a paid consultant for pharmaceutical companies distributing any of the medications mentioned in this blog.***
Dr. Tania Mucci is a senior internal medicine resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. She graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and specializes in the latest advances in primary care and general health.