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Emergency Contraception: Possible Side Effects

About emergency contraception

Emergency contraception (EC) helps prevent pregnancy. It doesn’t end a pregnancy if you’re already pregnant, and it isn’t 100% effective, either. However, the sooner after sexual intercourse you use it, the more effective it will be.

Emergency contraception can include use of the copper intrauterine device (IUD) and combinations of prescription oral contraceptives used under the direction of your doctor. However, the least expensive and most easily accessible form of EC is the progestin-only EC pill. It’s about $40–50. People of any age can buy it over-the-counter in most pharmacies without an ID. It’s typically very safe to use, but it can come with a few side effects.

Possible side effects

The EC pill, sometimes called the morning-after pill, has not been found to have any long-term or serious side effects. In most cases, women who take EC will experience no complications. However, some forms of the EC pill will cause minor side effects.

Progestin-only EC pills include Plan B One-Step, My Way, and Next Choice One Dose. They usually only cause a few side effects. Most of these symptoms will resolve once the drug is out of your system. The most common side effects include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • tiredness
  • fatigue
  • dizziness

EC can also affect your menstrual cycle. Your period may be as much as one week early or one week late. If your period is more than one week late, you may want to take a pregnancy test.

You asked, we answered

  • Is vaginal bleeding normal after taking the morning-after pill?
  • Some women who take emergency contraception may have light vaginal bleeding. This usually ends within three days. However, bleeding that lasts longer than three days or that becomes heavier may be a sign of a problem. Contact your health care provider right away if your bleeding is heavy or lasts longer than three days. 

    - the Healthline Medical Team
  • Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Preventing or relieving side effects

If you’re worried about side effects or have a history of side effects from EC, talk with your pharmacist. They may be able to direct you to over-the-counter (OTC) options to help ease headache and nausea. Some OTC nausea medications may increase tiredness and fatigue, though. You may be able to prevent fatigue by resting and taking it easy for a few days after you use EC.

If you become dizzy or nauseated after taking EC, lie down. This will help prevent vomiting. If you vomit within one hour of taking the medication, call your healthcare provider or family planning clinic to find out if you may need to take another dose.

Read more: Emergency contraception safety »

When to call your doctor

Light, unexpected vaginal bleeding is possible with EC use. However, some cases of unusual bleeding can be serious. If you experience unexpected vaginal bleeding with abdominal pain and dizziness, call your health care provider. Also call your healthcare provider if your bleeding does not end within three days or if it becomes heavier. Your symptoms may be a sign of a more serious condition that requires medical treatment.

Otherwise, the morning after pill causes mild side effects, if it causes any at all.

More Resources

A Woman’s Guide to Safe Sex Basics
Emergency Contraception and Safety
Know Your Options
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