World Contraception Day: Understanding possible side effects of the pill

Contraception is an important and essential public healthcare requirement. Control over one’s fertility is a crucial part of a woman’s independence

Maharashtra govt to make injectable contraceptives available in public hospitals
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In recent years, the dialogue around fertility control, contraception and the ‘pro-choice’ movement has significantly increased awareness about the need for a woman to be in charge of her sexual and reproductive health.

However, due to irresponsible marketing and industry driven propaganda, emergency contraception has come to the forefront of the public eye.

What is contraception?

Any medical intervention which prevents a pregnancy from occurring in case of unprotected sexual intercourse is a contraceptive method. Then what is emergency contraception?

Essentially, emergency contraception is an emergency measure taken to prevent pregnancy when a regular method of contraception fails. The key word here is ‘regular method’.

Emergency contraception cannot be your regular method of contraception. It is not right for your body, and will not work effectively.

Often time’s young and older women alike rely on emergency contraceptive pills as their primary method of contraception, which, as expected, results in frequent failures and accidental pregnancies.

Emergency contraceptive pills should only be used when your routine contraception method of choice has failed for e.g. condom burst or missed daily oral contraceptive pills or if some other medication is likely to reduce the efficacy of your pills etc.

Methods of emergency contraception

There are mainly two different methods of emergency contraception available:

  • Emergency contraception pill
  • Intra-Uterine Device (IUD) insertion

Emergency contraceptive pill: This is what is commonly known as the ‘morning after pill’. This is basically a high dose of hormones that interfere with the normal hormonal cycle of the body and prevent an egg from being released from the ovaries during the cycle.

However, it is obvious that it will be of no benefit if an egg has been already released from the ovary prior to taking the pill. Also, it will not be of benefit if taken more than once during a single menstrual cycle. Importantly, it must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse.

Intrauterine Device (IUD): This is what is commonly known as ‘Copper-T’. When inserted within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected intercourse this has the highest efficacy of preventing a pregnancy.

It works by preventing the implantation of the early pregnancy inside the uterus. It also has the added benefit of continued contraceptive protection till the device if kept inside.

Birth control is not purely a woman’s responsibility; men too have means to prevent pregnancies

Whom should I consult before taking an emergency contraceptive pill?

An emergency contraceptive method should never be used without consulting your gynaecologist first. Though some of these medications are available over-the-counter, you must always visit a doctor who can check you before prescribing the medication.

Some conditions or medications can affect the efficacy of different emergency methods, and you must be evaluated for them before using any particular method.

You can also have a candid talk with the doctor about your needs and preferences so that you can choose a long term contraceptive method that best suits you.

Are there any side effects that can occur with emergency contraception?

It is important to understand that emergency contraception should be used only as ‘incidental’ use, in case an on-going method of contraception has failed. Some women might experience nausea and vomiting after consuming an emergency contraceptive pill.

If vomiting occurs within three hours of taking a pill, a repeat dose will be required. There can be some menstrual disturbances expected like delayed or prolonged period.

But if the next period is delayed by more than seven days then a pregnancy must be checked for. If such a pregnancy has occurred there is a higher risk of it being an ectopic pregnancy (the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus). The pill is not known to cause any abnormalities in the development of the pregnancy if it occurs.

The author is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi