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Opinions of Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Columnist: Harry Okyere

Emergency contraceptive pill; how often is too much?

A cursory look at community Pharmacies reveals that there has been a sharp decline in the purchase of condoms over the past few years.

It appears that this decline parallels a sharp rise in the consumption of the post-pill among sexually active women. Today is world Contraception day, and my aim is to help young, sexually active people to get the best out of emergency contraceptive pills.

When taken by the woman after unprotected sexual intercourse, emergency contraceptive pills such as Postinor 2, Lydia post-pill, Lenor, Xtivor, Potex, contra-72 among many others, reduce your chances of getting pregnant.

The pill consists of a single tablet of 1.5 mg levonorgestrel, which must be taken as soon as possible, preferably within 12 hours and no later than 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.

Alternatively, some brands are made of two tablets, each containing 0.75mg levonorgestrel taken in 2 doses, 12 hours apart. The pill may still be effective even up to 5 days after sexual intercourse, but readers must be cautioned that its effectiveness reduces considerably after 72 hours.

A repeat dose should be taken if vomiting occurs within three hours of ingestion. The pills prevent pregnancy by preventing or delaying ovulation.

They may also work to prevent fertilization of an egg by affecting the cervical mucus or the ability of sperm to bind to the egg.

Contraceptive pills are not effective once the process of implantation has begun, and they will not cause abortion. Common adverse effects include nausea, vomiting, headaches, breast tenderness and irregular bleeding.

Many women will experience irregular bleeding regardless of which brand is chosen, with the menstrual period usually occurring 1 week before or after the expected time.

As the name suggests, these pills were designed for occasional use. Because they are less effective than other hormonal and long-acting methods, they are not recommended as a regular method of contraception.

No current scientific data regarding the safety of repeated use these pills are available, but current consensus suggests the risks are low, and women can receive multiple doses where necessary.

This begs the very question that really inspired this article-How often is too much?

The best way to deal with such controversy is to use the drug as it was intended to be used-; occasionally. In other words, if you find yourself using the post-pill more frequently, then you may consider talking to a health professional about other methods of contraception.

Even though the drug has been found to be very safe and effective, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that safety and efficacy studies were done in the context of how the drug should be used.

It is difficult to put up a number on how often the pill should be used. Arbitrarily, a frequency not exceeding 1-4 times per month has been suggested.

Considering the total quantity of levonogesterol that one will consume in a month when using a regular daily contraception pill, the writer recommends not more than two per cycle. This is not to say that one should be denied a repeat dose when required. There is, however, a caveat; The pill will eventually let you down when used too frequently within one cycle, and will heavily disrupt your cycle.

Let me take the opportunity to deal with some myths about the post-pill. The term morning after pill frequently used to refer to the pill does not imply that it can be taken only in the morning. It only means it should be taken as soon as possible after sexual intercourse.

The post-pill only prevents pregnancy. It doesn’t abort an existing pregnancy, neither does it protect you from STIs like HIV.

You don’t need to wait for 72 hours after the sexual act before taking the drug.

The pill will not affect your fertility and it’s safe to use in breastfeeding mothers.

Disclaimer; this article does not attempt to answer every single question regarding the post pill. It is also not intended to substitute for a professional advice from your healthcare professional. Involve your physician and Pharmacist in every medication-related decision you want to take. As much as possible, avoid self-medication at all cost.