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Introduction to birth control
If a woman is sexually active and she is fertile and physically able to become pregnant, she needs to ask herself, "Do I want to become pregnant now?" If her answer is "No," she must use some method of birth control (contraception).
Terminology used to describe birth control methods includes:
Regardless of the terminology used, sexually active people can choose from a variety of methods to reduce the possibility of their becoming pregnant. No method of birth control available today offers perfect protection against sexually transmitted diseases or STDs, except abstinence.
In simple terms, all methods of birth control are based on either preventing a man's sperm from reaching and entering a woman's egg (fertilization) or preventing the fertilized egg from implanting in the woman's uterus (her womb) and starting to grow. New methods of birth control are being developed and tested all the time. What is appropriate for a couple at one point may change with time and circumstances.
Unfortunately, no birth control method, except abstinence, is considered to be 100% effective.
Emergency contraception definition
Emergency contraception is a medication or device that is used to prevent conception after unprotected intercourse has already occurred. It is not intended for use as a primary method of contraception and is most appropriate as a back-up method. Between 2006 and 2010, about 1 in 9 women of reproductive age in the US report having used emergency contraception. Emergency contraception can involve the administration of hormones or the insertion of an intrauterine device (IUD).
What is emergency hormonal contraception (morning after pill)?
Emergency hormonal contraception is sometimes called "the morning after pill" or "postcoital contraception," although these are not the preferred terms, and actually can be misleading. It is actually a short course of the hormones found in oral contraceptives taken at a high dose. The exact regimen (the number of pills and the number of days) depends on the type of oral contraceptive used.
How does the morning after pill work?
Depending upon the time during the menstrual cycle that the emergency contraceptives are taken, these may prevent pregnancy by blocking the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus, by inhibiting ovulation, or by interfering with fertilization of the egg.
- To be considered a possible candidate for emergency contraceptive pills a woman should take the medication within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, although there is some evidence that they may be effective in the 5 days following intercourse.
- Because the pills may be taken up to 72 hours later, the term "morning-after pill" is misleading.
- However, the pills are most effective when taken as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse.
- The only known contraindication to emergency contraception is pregnancy, so a woman must not be pregnant when these methods are used.
- Emergency hormonal contraception may be taken on any day of the menstrual cycle.
What are the side effects of the morning after pill?
- There are no serious side effects, but the pills may cause nausea and vomiting in some women.
- These side effects may be controlled by taking an anti-nausea drug such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine).
- Frequently a doctor will give a prescription nausea medication, such as prochlorperazine (Compazine), at the same time as the emergency contraceptive pill.
- A woman may also experience breast tenderness and a temporary disruption of her menstrual cycle.
Who can purchase the morning after pill?
- One type of emergency hormonal contraception is available without a prescription in the US for people aged 17 or older (proof of ID is required for purchase).
- It is also available for younger teens with parental permission.
What tests or exams are necessary before you can use the morning after pill?
Neither a physical examination nor any laboratory tests are required prior to use of the emergency hormonal contraception. It can be taken at any time during the menstrual cycle, and the next menstrual period typically occurs within one week of the expected time. The timing of the subsequent menses is, to some extent, dependent upon the time in the cycle at which the emergency contraceptive was taken.
What is the dosage, and what types of the morning after pill are available?
Another formulation for emergency hormonal contraception uses estrogen along with levonorgestrel, but levonorgestrel-only medication may be more effective and causes less nausea compared to estrogen-containing products.
Clinical trials using low doses of mifepristone (known earlier as RU-486, sometimes called "the abortion pill") have shown that this agent is extremely effective as an emergency contraceptive when taken prior to ovulation, but it has not been approved for this use in the US. Mifepristone (Mifeprex) has been approved, in much higher doses, for terminating a pregnancy of less than 49 days' duration and must be taken under a physician's supervision.
Another type of anti-progestin medication that is similar to mifepristone in its structure and actions is known as ulipristal acetate. Ulipristal acetate (Ella) is marketed for emergency contraception in Europe and was approved by the US FDA in August 2010 for use in the US for emergency contraception up to 120 hours after intercourse. It is available by prescription only.
How effective is the morning after pill?
Although effectiveness of the oral contraceptives are dependent to some extent upon how soon after unprotected intercourse they are taken, efficacy studies have generally reported a low rate of pregnancy with use of oral emergency contraception.
Does the morning after pill protect against STDS?
Emergency contraceptive pills do not protect women from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Can the morning after pill be used as a primary form of birth control?
Emergency hormonal contraception or the morning after pill is not meant to be a primary birth control method. Once the emergency is over, a woman should receive proper counseling so that she can select an effective and appropriate contraceptive method to use on a regular basis if she continues to be sexually active.
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What is emergency IUD?
Like the high dose of oral hormonal contraceptive, an IUD blocks the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterine wall. Emergency IUD insertion can also be used to prevent a pregnancy after unprotected sex.
- Copper IUD insertion is the most effective method of emergency contraception.
- If the copper IUD (Paragard) is inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex, it is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.
- The copper IUD has the lowest failure rate of all emergency contraception options.
What are the complications or contraindications with emergency IUD?
- Emergency IUD insertion does slightly increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
- Contraindications to the use of the emergency IUD include:
- known or suspected pregnancy,
- active pelvic infection,
- copper allergy, and
- certain anatomical abnormalities of the uterus.
Can emergency IUD be used as birth control?
An added advantage of emergency contraceptive use of an IUD compared to pills is that once the IUD is in place, it will provide the woman with a long-term contraceptive method if she chooses.
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Barrier Methods of Birth Control
Many barrier methods of birth control are available for a man or woman, for example, the sponge, female and male condoms, diaphram, spermicides, male condoms, female condoms, contraceptive sponge, diaphragm, and cervical cap. Side effects, and efficacy (in preventing pregnancy) depends on the type of birth control used.
Birth Control Methods
Birth control is available in a variety of methods and types. The method of birth control varies from person to person, and their preferences to either become pregnant or not. Examples of barrier methods include barrier methods (sponge, spermicides, condoms), hormonal methods (pill, patch), surgical sterilization (tubal ligation, vasectomy), natural methods, and the morning after pill.
Side effects and risks of each birth control option should be reviewed prior to using any birth control method.
Birth Control MethodsWhat are your birth control options? Learn about birth control side effects and effectiveness. Discover birth control methods such as birth control pills, birth control shot, implant, patch and more.
Hormonal Methods of Birth ControlThere are several different hormonal methods of birth control. The hormones can be estrogen and/or progesterone. The hormones can be taken by mouth, implanted into body tissue, absorbed from a patch on the skin, injected under the skin, or placed in the vagina. Common types of hormonal birth control include: "The Pill" (oral contraceptives), injection (Depo-Provera, Lunelle), the patch (Ortho-Evra), and the vaginal ring (Nuvaring).
An IUD (intrauterine device) is a birth control method designed for a woman. The IUD is a small "T" made of molded polyethylene plastic coated with barium so that, if need be, it can be seen on X-ray.
There are two types of IUDs 1) Intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD) including the ParaGard, Copper 7, and Mini-7; and 2) Intrauterine system (IUS) including Progestasert and Mirena.
Side effects of the IUD include spotting, infection, infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and heavy menstrual bleeding. Risks and complications of the IUD are miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease, and increased menstrual bleeding.
Levonorgestrel (Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, My Way) is a non-prescription (over-the-counter or OTC) drug used help prevent pregnancy when birth control methods fail or after unprotected sex. Side effects, drug interactions, storage, dosing, and pregnancy and breastfeeding safety should be reviewed prior to taking this medication.
MenstruationMenstruation (menstrual cycle) is also referred to as a "period." When a woman menstruates, the lining of the uterus is shed. This shedding of the uterine linking is the menstrual blood flow. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days. There can be problems with a woman's period, including heavy bleeding, pain, or skipped periods. Causes of these problems may be amenorrhea (lack of a period), menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea), or abnormal vaginal or uterine bleeding. There are a variety of situations in which a girl or woman should see a doctor about her menstrual cycle.
mifepristone-oralMifepristone (Mifeprex) is prescribed to terminate pregnancies up to the 49th day of the pregnancy. Side effects drug interactions, dosage, storage, and safety information should be reviewed prior to taking this medication.
Natural Methods of Birth ControlNatural methods of contraception are considered "natural" because they are non-mechanical and non-hormonal. Fertility awareness methods (FAMs) are based upon knowing when a woman ovulates each month. Natural methods of birth control include: the calendar rhythm, basal body temperature, mucus inspection, symptothermal, use of an ovulation indicator testing kit, withdrawal, lactational infertility, douching and urination, and abstinence.
Oral Contraceptives, Birth Control PillsBirth control pills (oral contraceptives) are prescription medications that prevent pregnancy. Three combinations of birth control pills that contain progestin and estrogen are 1) monophasic, 2) biphasic, and 3) triphasic. Birth control pills may also be prescribed to reduce menstrual cramps or prevent anemia. Certain prescription medications may cause drug interactions. Some women experience various levels of side effects of birth control pills.
Pregnancy Myths QuizBeing pregnant is a delicate time for both mother and baby. Take this quiz to separate the myths and facts about being pregnant, and learn the truth behind healthy pregnancies!
Sexual Health OverviewSexual health information including birth control, impotence, herpes, sexually transmitted diseases, staying healthy, women's sexual health concerns, and men's sexual health concerns. Learn about the most common sexual conditions affecting men and women.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs In Women)Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are among the most common infectious diseases in the United States. STDs can be spread through any type of sexual activity involving the sex organs, the anus or mouth, or through contact with blood during sexual activity. Examples of STDs include, chancroid, chlamydia, gonorrhea, granuloma inguinale, lymphogranuloma venereum, syphilis, genital herpes, genital warts, trichomoniasis, pubic lice (crabs), and scabies. Treatment is generally with antibiotics; however, some STDs that go untreated can lead to death.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Pregnancy (STDs)When you are pregnant, many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be especially harmful to you and your baby. These STDs include herpes, HIV/AIDS, genital warts (HPV), hepatitis B, chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. Symptoms include bumps, sores, warts, swelling, itching, or redness in the genital region. Treatment of STDs while pregnant depends on how far along you are in the pregnancy and the progression of the infection.
STDs in Men OverviewSexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections transmitted during sexual contact. They may be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. STDs in men cause no symptoms or symptoms like genital burning, itching, sores, rashes, or discharge. Common infections that are sexually transmitted in men include gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, hepatitis C and B, genital warts, human papillomavirus (HPV), and genital herpes. Some STDs in men are treatable while others are not. STDs are diagnosed with tests that identify proteins or genetic material of the organisms causing the infection. The prognosis of an STD depends on whether the infection is treatable or not. Use of latex condoms can help reduce the risk of contracting an STD but it does not eliminate the risk entirely.
Surgical SterilizationSurgical sterilization is considered a permanent method of contraception. In certain cases, sterilization can be reversed, but this is not guaranteed. For this reason, sterilization is meant for men and women who do not intend to have children in the future. Types of surgical sterilization include: vasectomy, tubal ligation, STOP (selective tubal occlusion procedure), and hysterectomy.
VasectomyA vasectomy is a simple surgical procedure used as a permanent form of male birth control. The odds of pregnancy after a vasectomy are low and the side effects are few. Although the procedure can be reversed, it is usually difficult, expensive, and unsuccessful.