The morning-after pill, also known as Plan B, is one of the most widespread ways to prevent unwanted pregnancy in case of an emergency. It delivers results if your usual contraception method fails. But exactly how effective is Plan B? Are there any hidden dangers?
In most cases, Plan B pills are completely safe to use. However, they might cause some side effects, as the pills affect the hormonal balance.
Some women feel anxious before taking the pill and the aftermath may leave them saddened, worried, or even shameful. These are just some of the reasons why you should get better acquainted with Plan B and how it works.
Plan B – Definition and Active Ingredients
Plan B is a progestin-only contraception pill which should be exclusively used in emergency cases. It stops or delays the ovarian egg release, and so prevents unwanted pregnancy. This pill contains the same ingredients as regular birth control medications. But the dose is much higher.
To be precise, one pill has 1.5mg of levonorgestrel, which is a common ingredient in other day-after contraception as well. It’s important to note that Plan B doesn’t affect the ability to conceive in the long run, if properly taken.
The pill shouldn’t be confused with abortion tablets or with common birth control. The high levels of levonorgestrel make it unsuitable for regular intake. It’s also important to remember that Plan B doesn’t protect from any STDs.
Things You Should Know about Levonorgestrel
Being the main Plan B active ingredient, levonorgestrel is responsible for preventing unwanted pregnancy. This hormonal medication appears in other day-after pills like Take Action, My Way, Next Choice One Dose, etc.
The effects of levonorgestrel depend on where the woman is in her reproductive cycle. It either prevents/delays ovulation or stops fertilization. In some cases, the medication changes the uterus lining, making it impossible for a fertilized egg to get implanted.
That said, it does not affect fetus development after an egg gets fertilized and implanted into the uterus. In other words, the pill doesn’t work for pregnant women.
How Effective Is Plan B?
The effectiveness of this emergency contraception varies based on the time you take it. In general, most levonorgestrel-based pills are up to 89% effective if you take them less than 72 hours after the unprotected intercourse.
According to the manufacturer, these pills are 95% effective when taken 24 hours after intercourse. Nevertheless, this emergency contraception might work up to 5 days after. The effectiveness drops to about 40% in this case.
Some researchers speculate that the pill’s effectiveness might be lower than indicated on the label. More studies might be needed to determine the exact percentage. But even taking that into account, Plan B is still one of the most effective methods of emergency contraception.
How to Take Plan B?
Like other levonorgestrel-based forms of contraception, Plan B is an over-the-counter medication. It can be easily obtained at any drugstore and the buyer doesn’t need proof of age or a prescription. Since it is most effective immediately after intercourse, you might consider keeping the pills in the medicine cabinet, just in case.
Just take the pill with some water or juice as soon as you suspect something went wrong, and it will do its magic. However, there are certain precautions you should know about.
Although safe, you shouldn’t take the pill if you suspect you were pregnant before the unprotected intercourse. The same goes for women who recently experienced menstrual bleeding much greater than usual. In rare cases, women might also be sensitive to levonorgestrel and have an allergic reaction.
There is a chance Plan B may react with other prescription and non-prescription drugs, food supplements, or vitamins. This is true for barbiturates, some HIV and seizure medications, and herbal remedies (particularly ones with St. John’s wort).
To avoid side effects or poor efficiency, it’s advisable to consult with a physician or a pharmacist.
What Are the Side Effects?
Most women can take Plan B without experiencing any negative effects. However, it is not uncommon for women to feel fatigued. Breast tenderness and light nausea are possible as well.
More serious symptoms may include dizziness, abdominal pain, menstrual changes, and vomiting. If the vomiting occurs a couple of hours after taking the pill, immediately consult with a gynecologist about repeating the dose.
Some vaginal bleeding or spotting between periods is normal after taking Plan B, but you should see a doctor if the bleeding becomes excessive. Levonorgestrel, the main active ingredient, is also known to cause a lighter or heavier period than usual. This is usually nothing to worry about.
However, women who experience persistent abdominal pain a few weeks after taking the pill should seek immediate medical help. Luckily, these cases are quite rare and they’re usually the result of other underlying conditions which might be triggered by Plan B.
Note: Unless a woman gets a period 3 weeks after taking the pill, she should still do a pregnancy test.
Prevention Is the Best Cure
The importance of proper contraception cannot be overstated. And again, resort to taking Plan B or any other emergency contraceptive only when absolutely necessary.
For the most optimal protection, it’s advisable to combine condoms and regular birth-control pills. This way, you are safe from unwanted pregnancy and also guard your body against common STDs. You can also resort to the pull-out method even when your partner is wearing a condom and you are on a pill.
Regular contraceptive medication is, of course, prescribed by your gynecologist. Self-medication isn’t safe, in spite of the fact some pills might be available over-the-counter. Remember, each woman reacts differently to the hormonal ingredients in regular contraceptive pills.
Congratulations, You Are Not Pregnant
When all is said and done, emergency contraceptives are there to provide the necessary help when you need it most.
It is best to take the pill the day after you had unprotected sex. But you shouldn’t take Plan B with other contraceptives. When in doubt, it’s best to get in touch with your doctor. Your reproductive health is of the utmost importance, so you should make sure you have trustworthy guidance.