Morning-after pill: what you need to know

Morning-after pill: what you need to know

Regarding the morning-after pill, there are still many doubts. We tried to clarify with the expert

The morning after pill is an emergency contraception method that has recently become a non-prescription drug (drug category SOP).

According to the scientific evidence collected by the World Health Organization, which defines the morning after pill as a supportive method of contraception (ed. In reference to the fact that its use as a contraceptive is not to be considered habitual but as an "aid" in cases in which other methods are not used in the correct way) to be used as soon as possible following unprotected sexual intercourse, can prevent 95% of unwanted pregnancies if taken within three / five days, depending on the hormonal formulations, of intercourse not protected.

We asked Dr. Graziana Ascani, a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology, to clarify some doubts that revolve around taking the morning-after pill.


  • What is it and when to take it
  • How to get it
  • How to use it
  • Side effects

What is it and when to take it

"The morning-after pill can be defined as an interception pill (or interceptive pill), or a form of contraception after intercourse at risk of pregnancy – explains the expert – The morning after pill must therefore be taken as soon as possible after intercourse at risk".

If the effectiveness of the morning after pill is maximum in the first 12 hours, it is still possible to take it within 72 hours or 120 hours depending on the hormonal formulations. In particular:

  • the morning-after pill based on the active ingredient levonorgestrel maintains a certain degree of effectiveness if taken within 3 days of unprotected intercourse;
  • that based on ulipistral acetate can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse. The effectiveness of ulipristal acetate is three times higher than that of levonorgestrel, if the pill is taken in the first 24 hours.

In general, however, the more time passes between intercourse and the contraceptive, the more likely it is that ovulation will occur. This is why it is important to proceed promptly after intercourse judged to be at risk of unwanted pregnancy, that is:

  • when no contraceptive method has been used;
  • when there has been failure or incorrect use of another contraceptive method, such as slipping or breaking of condoms, forgetting to take the oral contraceptive pill or failure of interrupted coitus with ejaculation in the vagina or on external genitalia.

How to get it

“Until recently, a prescription was needed to get the morning-after pill. Today every woman (ed. Even minors, in the case of preparations containing the active ingredient ulipristal acetate) has the right to request it directly at the pharmacy and obtain it "explains the expert.

By law, therefore, today you can get the morning after pill by simply requesting it at the pharmacy without the need for a prescription. An important milestone for the protection of the physical and psychological health of women and adolescents, considering that, as also revealed by a survey on emergency contraception (SWG-Health Communication), 70% of girls aged between 18 and 24 years of age considers it a useful aid in emergency after a risky intercourse or a contraceptive that has not worked properly.

The same survey also revealed a certain confusion between the morning-after pill and the abortion pill, two completely different pharmaceutical preparations both in composition and in use and purpose:

  • the morning-after pill is called emergency contraception and has an anti-ovulatory action: in practice, it blocks ovulation before it occurs. Since it does not interrupt the pregnancy but prevents it, it cannot be considered abortive;
  • the abortion pill, known as RU-486, is used instead to terminate an ongoing pregnancy (specifically within the first 9 weeks) and is a form of pharmacological abortion. To access this preparation, it is necessary to go to a family clinic, to your family doctor or gynecologist, or to a facility that carries out voluntary termination of pregnancy (IVG).

How to use it

One of the most frequently asked questions about the morning after pill concerns how to take it.

“The morning-after pill should only be taken once, in as short a time as possible with respect to the relationship considered to be at risk. Once taken, a period should appear after a few days. This happens in 90/95% of cases. If menstruation does not appear, you must undergo a gynecological check-up. Even if the absence of menstruation does not necessarily mean that the pill did not work, "explains Dr. Ascani.

With respect to the frequency with which it can be taken, given that there is no valid and absolute answer for all women, it is good:

  • do not take the morning-after pill within the same menstrual cycle: an excessively high hormone dose in such a short time could have important repercussions on the menstrual cycle.
  • avoid taking the morning-after pill for several consecutive months.

If every woman is free to decide how many times to take the morning-after pill during her life, then the important thing is that she is aware of the possible side effects of this drug. In case of doubts, it is always advisable to consult your doctor or gynecologist.

Side effects

While the morning-after pill is generally well tolerated, it can sometimes cause unwanted effects.

Specifically, «the side effects of the morning after pill are the same as those of the contraceptive pill. Whereas the morning after pill has an obviously higher dosage than the birth control pill. Therefore, among the possible side effects there are the most classic of the pill: from headache, nausea or dry mouth »explains Dr. Ascani.

"I do not recommend taking it in cases where there is a family history of thrombophilia or to those who have already had cardiovascular, vascular or hypertension problems. It should also be remembered that there are some drugs that reduce the effect of estrogen-progestins, such as barbiturates or some types of antibiotics such as, for example, amoxicillin "concludes the expert.

In any case, in the presence of specific conditions or in any doubt, it is good to consult your doctor or gynecologist.

Read also

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  • Covid-19, female hormones could protect against coronavirus
  • Polycystic ovary: symptoms, causes and consequences
  • A puppy arrives: what you need, how to prepare the house
  • Menstrual pains: causes and remedies

Tag: Contraception

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