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Emergency Contraception

I had sex with my husband the other day. The condom was torn. I was worried as I did not intend to get pregnant. My family doctor gave me a pill to take the next day. He told me it was for emergency contraception. How does it work? How effective is it? Any side effects?

Emergency contraception refers to the birth control method that prevents unintended pregnancy after an unprotected sex or if there is contraceptive failure such as a torn condom during sexual intimacy. Occasionally it is used in women after sexual assault or rape.

The following are methods of emergency contraception:

1. Taking emergency contraceptive pill (also known as the morning after pill)

2. Inserting an IUCD (intrauterine contraceptive device)

Emergency contraceptive pills are more commonly used. They work by preventing or delaying the release of an egg (ovulation). They can be taken within up to 5 days after sex but are most effective within 12 hours after intercourse.

When consumed within 72 hours after unprotected sex, they reduce the risk of pregnancy by about 75% to 90 %. They are used as a back-up and not as a regular contraceptive method. They do not have serious or long-term side effects Common side effects are abdominal pain, irregular menstrual bleeding, nausea, fatigue and headache. Less common side effects include breast tenderness, dizziness and vomiting. The second method of emergency contraception is by inserting an IUD which can be done within five days after unprotected intercourse. It is about 99% effective. Side effects include heavy menses, menstrual pain and vaginal discharge.

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