Let’s Talk About Plan B (and other forms of emergency contraception)



Practicing safe sex is very important for many reasons. One reason we will focus on today is preventing unplanned pregnancies even after having unprotected sex. This is where emergency contraception (“EC”) enters the scene — it helps prevent pregnancy after the deed is done. Some people still call it the “morning after pill” but you have a bit more time than that to get your hands on it. Plan B is usually the first to come to mind we think of EC — but there are other options  and we will be discussing those as well!

When should you use emergency contraception?

If you had unprotected sex, EC can be used to prevent pregnancy. EC is most effective if taken right after unprotected sex occurs but can actually be used up to 5 days after (Side Note: as days go by, the effectiveness goes byebye).

Are there any side effects?

The side effects of Plan B are similar to other hormonal birth control and generally not an issue for most people. In case you do have any side effects, these are normal:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fatigue or dizziness
  • Tender breasts
  • Abdominal pain or cramps

These side effects only last a couple days. Also, your menstrual cycle may become affected (light, heavy, early, or late). Do not worry if this occurs. However, if you have severe abdominal pain or do not get your next period, please visit your primary care physician or gynecologist.

Is Plan B FDA-approved?

Yes! It’s a very safe medication that has no contraindications or safety concerns.

Are there options other than Plan B?

Yes! Let’s dive right into this subject!

There are a few options available to you.  The first is the popular Plan B One-Step pill or one of its many generic forms (Take Action, Aftera, React, MyWay, etc).

The second is the Ella pill, which is less famous because it requires a prescription but works a bit better than Plan B.  You can only pick one of these two pills. Taking both is a recipe for failure since they basically cancel each other out, so please don’t try it.

Your third and most effective option is the copper IUD. If you’re interested in this one, check with your local clinics to see if you can get it quickly enough. It’s a good idea to take one of the pill options while you figure out the IUD.

How do EC pills work?

Little known fact, it can take up to 6 days for the sperm and egg to meet after having unprotected sex. This form of birth control causes the woman’s ovary to delay releasing the egg. Hence, there will be no egg for the sperm to meet! Sorry guys.

Now that we’ve discussed these options, you’re probably wondering how you can get a hold of them…

No matter how old you are or your gender, anyone can buy Plan B or one of its generic versions over-the-counter — that means no prescription needed — at your local pharmacy. However, everyone needs a prescription for Ella. A prescription for Plan B will probably help get your insurance to pay for it though.

You can meet with Dr. Sally at The Pharmacists Clinic and get a prescription for EC or other methods of birth control. Tip: Go in and get it before you need it. That way you can just grab it out of your medicine cabinet if the situation presents itself.

Remember, these are back up and there are more effective methods of birth control that can be used before you jump in between the sheets.


About the Author:

Bianca S. Faridian is a third-year pharmacy student at the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Radio Interview About Pharmacists & Birth Control

Last week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a radio program about the different areas where pharmacists provide clinical services.  The host of Health Update Radio, Dr. Gerry Graf, is a retired pharmacist himself and was very interested in pharmacist roles with family planning and birth control.  The program aired live last Monday, September 5, 2014.  The portion of the show where I am interviewed can be found in the video clip below.

We talk about why family planning is important for women of all ages from menarche (when a young woman begins menstruating) to menopause.  Some of the topics we discussed include all the different methods of birth control, considerations in women with medical conditions, access and privacy in pharmacies, and contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act and Hobby Lobby decision.

You can access the full program featuring Drs. Steven Atallah and David Ha discussing their roles in trauma care and infectious diseases care on the WS Radio website.

Expert Interview: Dr. Tracey Wilkinson

With the recent changes to expand access to birth control for youth, pediatrician Dr. Tracey Wilkinson helps explain the importance of the progress so far and what still remains to be done.Dr. Tracey Wilkinson

What changes have you seen recently with birth control for youth?

In 2013, emergency contraception (EC), also known as the morning-after pill, was made an over-the-counter medication for everyone.  This means that anyone (girls or boys) can walk into a retail pharmacy or drugstore and purchase EC without having to show identification or find a pharmacy that is open.

How has over-the-counter EC impacted your patients?

Having EC over-the-counter helps ensure that everyone (regardless of age) can access this medication when they need it.  Remember, EC works better the sooner it is taken–so, it is important that when someone needs to get this medication to prevent pregnancy, there are no delays when they go to the pharmacy, doctor’s office, or clinic.

What challenges are your patients facing despite these changes?

There have been a lot of changes to the law regarding EC access over the last few years.  So, it is not surprising that there is a lot of confusion–amongst clinicians, pharmacy staff and even teenagers–as to who can get this medication and when it should be taken.

What needs to be done to address these challenges?

We are going to need to have a lot of education and outreach to both the public and the medical community about the recent changes around EC access.  It is important that youth know about this medication and when to take it, that doctors talk about it with their patients and that pharmacy staff know how to answer questions from consumers buying this medication.

What advice would give youth who would like to get birth control?

First, do some research before you go to the doctor on what types of birth control is out there and what may be a good fit for what you are looking for. Second, it is important that youth find a clinician who they feel comfortable talking to about options for birth control.  These conversations rely on trust and it is important that you find that relationship with a clinician.  Also, remember your rights when going to the doctor’s office, clinic, or pharmacy–you have a right to privacy and confidentiality no matter how old you are.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?  

One of my favorite things as a pediatrician is talking to adolescents as they transition to adults and start making decisions around sexual activity and how to be safe.  Remember, there are a lot of ways to do that and it is important to find a birth control method that works well for you and your partner so that you can stay healthy and also not get pregnant until you are ready.  The number of contraceptive methods continues to increase and so if you don’t like one method–there are a lot of other ones to try!

About the Expert: Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, MD, MPH is a board-certified pediatrician practicing at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  She is also an Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.  Dr. Wilkinson’s research interests are pregnancy prevention and access to contraception.  To make an appointment with Dr. Wilkinson, call (323)669-2113.