Plan B Particulars: The Facts You Need to Know

The Food and Drug Administration has decided that women over the age of 18 will not need a prescription to purchase Plan B, a form of emergency contraception, while younger girls will need permission from a doctor. Unlike other forms of contraception, this drug allows women to lower their risk of getting pregnant after they engage in unprotected sex.

Putting aside your political stance or whatever ethical or moral qualms you have about either side of the argument, it is important to understand how Plan B works. Here are the facts:

What is Emergency Contraception?
Emergency contraception, sometimes called emergency birth control, is used to prevent a women who has had unprotected sex from becoming pregnant. It is not meant to be used routinely, but only in particular instances, such as when:

  • Birth control is forgotten entirely
  • A condom breaks or comes off
  • A woman forgets to take two or more birth control pills in a row
  • A woman is late in getting a birth control injection
  • A woman is forced to have unprotected sex

It is important to realize that, like the birth control pill, patch and injections, emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, herpes and chlamydia.

Also emergency contraception only works before a woman becomes pregnant. In other words, it must be taken before the egg is fertilized for it to be effective.

What is Plan B?
Plan B is a type of emergency contraception approved by the FDA. It is prescribed as a packet of two pills containing synthetic progestin, a type of hormone naturally made in a woman's body.

The drug works in the same way as a typical birth control pill in that it prevents the release of an egg from the ovary so fertilization cannot happen. If ovulation has already occurred, Plan B can also prevent the sperm from fertilizing the egg.

Plan B is ineffective, however, once fertilization happens and the egg is implanted into the woman's uterus. That's why the first Plan B pill must be taken within the first 72 hours after having unprotected sex. The sooner Plan B is taken after intercourse, the more effective it is. Twelve hours later, a second pill is taken. According to the manufacturer's website, "When you take Plan B as directed, you reduce your risk for pregnancy by up to 89 percent."

Is Plan B the Same as the Abortion Pill?
No. You may have heard Plan B called the "morning after pill", but it is significantly different than the abortion pill, RU-486. That drug is used to end an existing pregnancy by causing the uterus to force out the fertilized egg. Plan B only prevents a pregnancy, it cannot end a pregnancy. And it shouldn't be taken by pregnant women for that purpose.

However, if the drug is taken after fertilization of the egg, there is no evidence that Plan B will in any way effect the pregnancy.

Are There any Risks of Taking Plan B?
The most common side effects of Plan B impact menstruation, causing early or late periods and lighter or heavier menstrual bleeding. Nausea, abdominal pain, dizziness and breast tenderness may also occur.

If you vomit after taking Plan B, the National Women's Health Information Center advises you to call a doctor for advice.

Also, there is still the risk that you may become pregnant even after taking Plan B. So, if you do not begin menstruation in three weeks, or have other symptoms of pregnancy, consider taking a pregnancy test or seeing a doctor.

Copyright HLTHO - Healthology
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