What Are The Health Risks Associated With The Morning-After Pill?

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The Emergency Contraceptive Pill delays ovulation, minimizing the chances of fertilization but disrupts the regular menstrual cycle. Any interference with a normal body process is bound to have its repercussions like heavier bleeding during and between periods, severe cramps, lower abdominal pains, weight gain, depression, high blood pressure, and increased risk of ectopic pregnancies.

If there was ever a topic that brings the pot of ideology, religion, women’s rights, science, and emotion to a boil, it is birth control. While various choices for birth control exist, one that has been much debated is the Emergency Contraceptive Pill (ECP) or “morning-after pill.” These drugs are to be taken after sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy and does so by disrupting or delaying ovulation. The name “morning-after pill” is a bit of a misnomer as the pill is most effective if used immediately after intercourse.

What’s Inside?

An ECP can be one of three types: pills with estrogen and progestin combined; pills with progestin (levonorgestrel); and pills containing an antiprogestin.1 The first type, that is, pills containing both hormones, is now largely used as a regular contraceptive pill and not just as a one-off EC. The progestin-only pill contains levonorgestrel and the antiprogestin pills contain ulipristal acetate or mifepristone. Both are meant to be taken within 72 hours of intercourse to be effective. These pills function in a similar manner – preventing/delaying ovulation and, thereby, checking fertilization.

The Morning After: Side Effects

If a pill is attempting to prevent or inhibit a regular activity of the human body, there is a high possibility that there are side effects. Delaying ovulation essentially means that the pill disrupts the regular menstrual cycle. It alters the normal menstrual behavior and may cause heavier bleeding or bleeding between periods. There is also a risk of increased cramping or lower abdominal pains. Other documented side effects include weight gain, depression, high blood pressure, respiratory ailments, and an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy. One study also found pills containing levonorgestrel could lead to bulimia and anorexia in some cases.2

Are They Safe?

Despite the possible side effects, the ECP is still promoted heavily and available over the counter in many countries. So why are they still marketed and recommended? Supporters argue that ECPs help prevent millions of unwanted pregnancies every year. They also argue that the risk to a woman’s health due to a pregnancy is higher than the side effects of a delayed menstrual cycle. In fact, there’s even an International Consortium for Emergency Contraception (ICEC) that releases a regular fact sheet on the benefits of ECPs.3 The general consensus is that ECPs are safe with minimal side effects which are not medically harmful. One study, while endorsing ECPs, also disproved concerns over the occurrence of ectopic pregnancies.4 In clinical trials, ECPs come out as largely effective with only mild side effects like headache, nausea, abdominal pain, or backache actually occurring.5 Although ECPs are intended for single use, using them more than once even within one menstrual cycle isn’t known to have any serious fallout.6

Green Signal

With huge changes in global trends that show higher sexual activity at lower ages and high incidence of violence against women, ECPs are a relatively safe option women can rely on to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Some of the health effects that follow are perhaps worth bearing under the circumstance.

References   [ + ]

1. Trussell, James, Elizabeth G. Raymond, and Kelly Cleland. “Emergency contraception: a last chance to prevent unintended pregnancy.” Contemp. Readings L. & Soc. Just. 6 (2014): 7.
2. Mosher, Steven W. “The Dangers of the Morning-After Pill.” (2004).9.
3, 6. Repeated Use Of Emergency Contraceptive Pills: The Facts, International Consortium for Emergency Contraception.
4. Glasier, Anna. “Emergency contraception: clinical outcomes.” Contraception 87, no. 3 (2013): 309-313.
5. Baird, D. T., S. Cameron, J. L. H. Evers, K. Gemzell-Danielsson, A. Glasier, C. Moreau, J. Trussell et al. “Emergency contraception. Widely available and effective but disappointing as a public health intervention: a review.” Human Reproduction (2015): dev019.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.