There are various ways by which you can control birth. A few time-tested and proven approaches include implantation of intra-uterine devices in women and vasectomy for men; apart from these, doctors may prescribe patches, birth control pills, injections as well as vaginal rings. Safer practices such as using a preventive barrier – such as, say – a female or male condom – can help control sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STDs). In this milieu, modern birth control measures are also available to handle emergencies. Such emergencies may arise out of unprotected sexual intercourse and the associated risks of unplanned pregnancies. The morning after pill is an emergency contraception or birth control measure, to avoid unplanned pregnancies. But, these pills do not a few side effects; it is important to know more about such effects.

Methods of emergency contraception are those used after having unprotected sex with your partner. This mode of birth control is also used when a few other birth control measures you have used fail to work. In some cases, such an emergency measure is taken if conventional birth control methods are not used properly. For example, use of a damaged condom can make way to an unplanned pregnancy. Most popular among emergency contraceptives is the ingestion of the morning after pill. There are also a few less popular emergency measures – such as, use of an intrauterine method involving a copper-based device. Owing to its limited scope, such devices are very rarely used as an emergency measure to control birth.

Synthetic hormones present in morning after pills

Morning after pill is available in multiple combinations of synthetic hormones. The hormones present in such emergency pills are the same as those available in the commonly used birth control pills or contraceptives taken orally. The key difference however is the significantly larger concentration of these hormones in the morning after pills. In essence, the key function of these pills is to stop the ovulation process. Morning after pill is available as a combination of multiple hormones – namely, progestin as well as estrogen. The pill is also sold as solely-progestin or as anti-progestin variants.

The main function of anti-progestin is to block the receptors of progestogen, which is essential for the maintenance of pregnancy. Once your body makes lesser than normal progestogen, the odds of your becoming pregnant are less. On the other hand, emergency contraceptive pills made solely of progestin work well if used within first 70 hours after having unprotected sex. However, if you have let more time to lapse after having sex, its efficacy is likely to come down substantially. Its key task is to close the cervix and to stop access for sperm cells. It is equally effective in inhibiting the ovulation process – i.e., only if ingested soon after a sexual intercourse.

Side effects of the morning after pill

Foremost of all, the morning after pill is neither used regularly nor for a longer period of time. It is important to wait for the morning after having unprotected sex to take the pill. Though it can be effective upto 70 hours after a sexual intercourse, it is better to take it soon in the morning after. This is the reason why these drugs are widely known as the “morning after pills”.

Common side effects

These pills may cause a few adverse side effects. Most common side effects may include excessive weariness, pain in the lower abdomen, softening of breasts, nausea or vomiting, changes in menstrual cycles, feeling drowsy, headaches, etc. However, most women who took these pills never developed any major side effects. A few women may vomit a few minutes after taking this pill; in such cases, you may have to take another dose. During those times, you are advised to talk to a qualified medical practitioner without any further delay.

Erratic periods

Of these side effects, alterations in your menstrual periods are more common than other discomforts. You may witness stretched duration of the succeeding period, or at times, you may find it to occur over a shortened duration. In some women, periods may commence way too earlier than usual. There are also instances of periods getting pushed to a later date. All such changes are influenced by the date of ingestion and more specifically, when the pill was taken – i.e., how many number of days prior to your normal menstrual period was the pill taken?

Regardless of these discomforts, the succeeding periods are likely to be normal. However, if your periods continue to be erratic or heavy, you may need to talk to a qualified medical professional for needful guidance and attention.

Softening of breasts

This side effect is more common when your body has more progesterone. You may also have noticed it during your regular periods wherein your breasts may turn sore as well as itchy when the hormonal balance tilts to an over-optimal level.

Drowsiness or being lightheaded

After taking this emergency contraceptive, you are most likely to experience drowsiness or an acute spell of dizziness. This side effect is quite a common occurrence. It occurs mainly because of the easing of walls of blood vessels. As a result, more blood flows to the lower limbs; in this process, your head may be deprived of needful amounts of blood. This change in blood flow often leads to dizziness or being lightheaded. This is not a matter of serious concern. Once the effects of the hormones wear off, blood supply soon resumes to a normal.

Headaches may occur as an extended side effect of getting dizzy, drowsy or lightheaded. These are quite common among women during their menstrual cycles. This discomfort is likely to ease away once the effect of progesterone goes off. But, in some women, the headaches may last longer. In a small minority of users, changes may occur to their eyesight – such as doubling of vision, etc. These are relatively serious signs; you are advised to take needful medical help upon experiencing vision changes.

Abdominal discomforts

These side effects manifest as pain in abdomen, vomiting or nausea. In general, you may witness a stomach upset. Some people have noticed diarrhea or loosening of stools. Most of these discomforts are mainly due to the presence of a pronounced level of progesterone in the morning after pill. But, in most cases, these discomforts are observed at a minimal level. Also, once your body flushes out the excessive supply of hormones – especially, progesterone – these signs may cease to show up. However, if vomiting or nausea persists for long, you are advised to seek medical attention from a qualified medical practitioner as soon as possible.

Other side effects of the morning pill – such as, cramping of abdominal muscles as well as weariness are also due to an increased presence of progesterone. In case of cramps, you can take the usual over the counter (OTC) drugs to treat muscular cramping. If the condition does not go away, you need to consult a doctor without delay. The morning after pill may also trigger internal bleeding. However, such episodes may disappear during the run-up to your next periods. But, if the next menstrual period fails to show up, you may need to take needful precautions immediately. The first thing to do is to perform a home-based pregnancy check (rapid test). Upon seeing positive results, you will need to consult a doctor as quickly as possible.

Uncommon and very rare side effects

The pill is also likely to trigger a few uncommon reactions and adverse effects. Such rare side effects are changes in appetite, increase in body temperature, itchiness, alterations to your libido level, acid reflux, and mood shifts such as depression, anxiety, etc. A small percentage of women have reported discomforts such as acne or other skin conditions, infection-like symptoms (tremors, soreness of throat, chills, etc.), being in an irritated state of mind, internal bleeding along with extended menstrual periods.

Safe use of the morning after pill – A few dos and don’ts

The pill must not be taken before having sex. Also, you must not take the pill if you are already pregnant. If pregnant women take the pill, it may cause severe damage to your fetus, and is likely to result in miscarriage or an abortion. Also, women who are living with recent episodes of excessive bleeding must stay away from taking the pill. Lastly, those who have known hypersensitivity or allergies to the active ingredients of such pills are not advised to consume them.

Those who are taking drugs such as barbiturates must stay away from co-administering the morning after pill. Concomitant use can often trigger a few allergies such as swelling and headaches. It can also result in reduction in the efficacy levels of both these drugs. Also, women who are taking anti-obesity drugs may also need to be more careful. In general, the efficacy of the morning after pill is known to be low when administered onto obese women.

In essence, the morning after pill is a concentrated form of your normal birth control pills. It is used only when you have forgotten to take a regular birth control pill. The pill is likely to trigger a few adverse side effects or discomforts. The common side effects may vary based on the combination of hormones the pill is made of. Also, the effects experienced by drugs made by a brand may not be the same as those triggered by another brand.

However, the most common side effects of morning after pill are pain in abdomen, tiredness as well as changes in menstrual periods, spasms, cramps and headaches. These side effects may disappear after a few hours. But, if they persist, you are advised to talk to a qualified medical practitioner for needful care and attention. Above all, always remember that this pill does not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Also, there are a few stray instances wherein the pills have failed to prevent unplanned pregnancies. So, if your periods do not show up, you need to do a quick pregnancy test as well as check with your doctor to manage risks – if any – of an unplanned pregnancy.

Last but not least, some couples may continue having unprotected sex for a few days after taking the morning after pill. In each such instance, risks of an unplanned pregnancy remain at a high level. If you need additional information about the safe use of this emergency contraceptive, it is a good practice to consult a qualified medical practitioner or your pharmacist.


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