Several packets of coloured pills

What emergency contraceptive options are there?

By Muthoni Mwangi
Most of us already know that emergency pills (popularly known as e-pills) as the go-to emergency contraceptive option. But, these are not the only emergency contraceptive option. Read on to learn more…

Emergency contraception consists of contraceptive options that can decrease the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex. They can be used after unprotected intercourse where withdrawal was not done, or a contraceptive method was improperly used, for example, missed contraceptive pills, a condom broke, or an injection was missed. It is used in women where sex was forced without protection, in instance of rape.

Options of emergency contraceptive methods

Emergency contraception includes oral medication and intrauterine devices. They should be used within a specific timeframe. The oral emergency contraceptive methods work to prevent ovulation. These include the levonorgestrel 1.5mg tablets, ulipristal acetate, and mifepristone.  They work by preventing or delaying ovulation and by changing the mid-cycle hormonal changes so should be taken before ovulation.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs), better known as copper T (non-hormonal) or levonorgestrel IUD (hormonal) can also be used as emergency contraception, but it is not fully understood how they work. The copper T should be placed within 5 days of unprotected intercourse and can remain as a reversible contraception method for up to 10 years.

Levonorgestrel IUD is a hormonal intrauterine device that can be used as a contraceptive for up to 5 years. Copper T is the most effective contraception option with a failure rate of < 0.1% followed by the hormonal IUD. The oral emergency contraceptive failure rate ranges from 1.5%- 2.6%.

Which emergency contraceptive should I choose?

Factors to consider, awareness, patient preferences, availability, and cost. Many women are not aware that the IUDs can be used as emergency contraception. The only downside is that insertion requires a visit to the doctor, and may need to be paid out of pocket which may be expensive and may not be time-efficient.

Women may also shy away from them because of previous experiences or second-hand experiences from other women. The emergency pill is the least effective but the most available emergency contraception and is hence the most widely used.

Potential side effects

All the methods are well tolerated with minimal side effects.

IUDs: cramps and some bleeding. There are some risks during insertion which the physician highlights before placing it.

Oral methods: cause nausea, cramps, changes in the menstrual cycle, dizziness, and breast pain.

Emergency contraceptives are not to be used in an existing pregnancy; they do not cause abortion. When it comes to preventing unwanted pregnancies, knowing your options makes all the difference.

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