By Riya Parikh, Temple University School of Pharmacy
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Emergency contraception is a way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. Currently, there are three different types of emergency contraception approved for use by the FDA, including Plan B (levonorgestrel). Continue reading to learn more about Plan B.
What is the Difference Between Plan B vs Levonorgestrel?
Levonorgestrel is a progestin based medication that is marketed under different names such as the Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, etc. All the generic formulations of levonorgestrel contain the hormone progestin.
Do I Need a Prescription for Levonorgestrel?
No, levonorgestrel is sold over the counter and does not require a prescription.
What is Levonorgestrel?
Levonorgestrel is a medication used to prevent pregnancy when taken within 72 hours after having unprotected sex. Unprotected sex may be due to absence or failure of any birth control methods.
How Does Levonorgestrel Work?
Levonorgestrel functions by blocking the release of the egg from the ovary. It can also prevent pregnancy by altering the transportation of the sperm to the egg. Furthermore, it can prevent the embryo from implantation by changing the endometrial lining. Levonorgestrel is not useful once the process of embryo implantation has already started. There is a 95% reduction in risk of pregnancy if levonorgestrel is taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex. If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, levonorgestrel causes a 85% decrease in the risk of pregnancy.
How and When Should I Take Levonorgestrel?
You should take levonorgestrel by mouth as soon as you can within 72 hours of having had unprotected sex. Levonorgestrel is most effective when taken soon after unprotected intercourse. Levonorgestrel is not effective when taken 72 hours after sex. It is important to bear in mind that if you happen to weigh 155 pounds or more, levonorgestrel might not work effectively, and you may need to use alternate emergency contraception methods such as a copper IUD or ulipristal acetate.
When Can I Take Levonorgestrel During My Menstrual Cycle?
Levonorgestrel can be taken at any time during the menstrual cycle.
Will Levonorgestrel Affect My Period?
After a dose of the levonorgestrel tablet, it is very normal to have some changes in your next period. It may be early or late, and there also may be changes in the bleeding pattern. You might experience more or less spotting, or no changes at all.
If you do not get your period within three weeks of taking levonorgestrel, you should get tested for a possible pregnancy. If you are not pregnant, your period will return to normal during the next cycle.
Can I Take Levonorgestrel Routinely?
Using levonorgestrel routinely as a contraceptive method is not recommended because it can make your period irregular, or even unpredictable. This is why a regular contraceptive in the form of an IUD, implant or an oral birth control pill are recommended as they are more effective at preventing pregnancy and have lesser restrictions on how they should be used.
Can I Take Levonorgestrel to Terminate Pregnancy?
Levonorgestrel will not be effective if a fertilized egg has already attached to the uterine wall. Levonorgestrel will not terminate a pregnancy, and hence it should not be used if pregnancy has been confirmed.
What are Some of the Common Side Effects of Taking Levonorgestrel?
Common side effects of levonorgestrel include nausea and an upset stomach, or feeling dizzy/lightheaded. If you experience a vomiting episode within 2 hours after taking this medication, you will need to take it again because it will not work.
You might also experience some tenderness in the breasts for a short period of time after taking the levonorgestrel tablet.
Will Levonorgestrel Protect Me Against Any Sexually Transmitted Diseases/HIV (AIDS)?
Levonorgestrel provides no protection for any sexually transmitted diseases or HIV and hence safe sex practices are necessary. Testing for STI/AIDS should be done after having unprotected intercourse with a partner that may be infected with these diseases.
Will Levonorgestrel Have an Impact on My Fertility?
Levonorgestrel does not have a long term impact on fertility. Fertility is likely to return soon after taking levonorgestrel.
Will Levonorgestrel Affect My Other Medications?
The following medications and herbal supplements may affect how effective levonorgestrel is: rifampin, griseofulvin, efavirenz, phenobarbital, carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, phenytoin, topiramate and St. John’s Wort.
Please note that this list is not exhaustive - discuss with your medical provider if you have specific questions about taking levonorgestrel with other medicines.
Where Can I Buy Plan B (Levonorgestrel)?
You can get Plan B over the counter at any superstore, pharmacy, drugstore, and at Planned Parenthood. You do not need a doctor’s prescription to buy Plan B (levonorgestrel).