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Emergency Contraception

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 7, 2024.

What is emergency contraception (EC)?

EC is medicine or an intrauterine device (IUD) used to prevent pregnancy when birth control fails or was not used. EC can also be used after a sexual assault. EC can be used up to 5 days after intercourse, but it works best when used as soon as possible. You may still get pregnant after you use EC, but your chances of pregnancy are greatly reduced. EC is safe but is not a substitute for long-term birth control.

What do I need to know about hormonal EC?

Hormonal EC is given as 1 or 2 pills. Some brands are only available by prescription. One brand is available over-the-counter. Not all pharmacies carry the over-the-counter brand, so you may need to ask healthcare providers where to find it. The side effects include nausea and vomiting, spotting or irregular bleeding, breast tenderness, dizziness or tiredness, and headache. You must do the following to use hormonal EC properly:

What do I need to know if I receive a copper IUD?

A copper IUD placed in your uterus within 7 days of intercourse can prevent pregnancy. The IUD can remain in your uterus for up to 10 years to provide long-term birth control. You need a vaginal exam, a pregnancy test, and tests for infections before you receive an IUD. It cannot be inserted if you have an infection. The side effects of a copper IUD include spotting and heavy periods for the first 3 to 6 months of use.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What else do I need to know about EC?

When should I seek immediate care?

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.