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Emergency contraception refers to back-up methods for contraceptive emergencies which women can use within the first few days after unprotected intercourse to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Emergency contraceptives are not suitable for regular use.
The WHO-recommended regimen for emergency contraception is: 1.5 mg of levonorgestrel as a single dose.
Who needs emergency contraception?
Any woman of reproductive age may need emergency contraception at some point to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. It is meant to be used in situations such as:
Mode of action
Levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) have been shown to prevent ovulation and they did not have any detectable effect on the endometrium (uterine lining) or progesterone levels when given after ovulation. ECPs are not effective once the process of implantation has begun, and will not cause abortion.
Based on reports from four studies including almost 5000 women, the levonorgestrel regimen used within five days after unprotected intercourse reduced a woman's chance of pregnancy by 60-90 per cent. The regimen is more effective the sooner after intercourse it is taken.
Medical eligibility criteria
Emergency contraceptive pills prevent pregnancy. They should not be given to a woman who already has a confirmed pregnancy. However, if a woman inadvertently takes the pills after she became pregnant, the limited available evidence suggests that the pills will not harm either the mother or her fetus.
Emergency contraceptive pills are for emergency use only and not appropriate for regular use as an ongoing contraceptive method because of the higher possibility of failure compared to modern contraceptives. In addition, frequent use of emergency contraception would results in more side-effects, such as menstrual irregularities. However, their repeated use poses no known health risks.
Sources: US Department of Health; The World Health Organization