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Side effects of the morning after pill

Both types of morning after pill (levonorgestrel and ulipristal) can cause side effects in some women. The most common of these are mild, and include abdominal cramps, nausea and changes to your menstrual cycle. Your period due after taking the morning after pill may arrive earlier or later than expected, and your bleeding may be heavier than usual. You may also experience spotting (random light bleeds) before your next period.

The side effects of any morning after pill should not last long, and should not be serious. If they last more than a couple of days or if you feel any severe abdominal pain, contact your GP straightaway.

Side effects of progesterone pills (Prevenelle and Norvelo)

Pills containing levonorgestrel, or a synthetic version of progesterone, can have mild side effects. They can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse (3 days). The most common of these, affecting more than 1 in 10 women, are:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • lower abdominal pain
  • fatigue
  • inter-menstrual bleeding

If you vomit within 3 hours of taking Prevenelle or Norvelo, consult your GP or pharmacist as soon as possible as the pill may not have been absorbed and you will need to take another one.

Less common side effects, affecting roughly 1 in 100 women, include:

  • dizziness
  • diarrhoea and vomiting
  • delay of menses of more than 7 days or irregular menstruation
  • breast tenderness

Please read the patient information leaflet for a full list of side effects. If you find your period is more than 5 days overdue you should do a pregnancy test to rule out pregnancy.

Side effects of ellaOne

ellaOne, or the ulipristal pill, can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex. Due to the nature of the composition of the tablet, it is associated with a few more side effects.

Common side effects of ellaOne, affecting roughly 1 in 10 to 1 in 100 women, include:

  • changes in mood
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • nausea, vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • fatigue and muscle ache
  • breast tenderness
  • pelvic pain
  • irregular menstruation

Please note, this is not a comprehensive list of side effects. Please check your patient information leaflet for the full list of reported side effects for both types of pill. If you should develop any symptoms that cause you concern please consult with your doctor straightaway.

Can the morning after pill interact with other medications?

Yes, both types of morning after pill can interact with certain drugs. These include conventional treatments for HIV and epilepsy, and certain herbal remedies, such as St John's Wort. This interaction may not cause side effects but can stop one or both medications from working properly.

If you take ellaOne while taking a regular contraceptive pill, you may also find this can affect the efficacy of your regular pill before your next period. Use another form of contraception, such as condoms, until your next period begins.

It's always important to let your healthcare provider of any medications, herbal remedies or supplements you take when you go to get the morning after pill. They will be able to assess your suitability to take the morning after pill and prevent these interactions from happening.

Can I lessen the side-effects of the morning after pill?

The most common side effects (headaches and cramps) can be treated with common over the counter medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen. If you have a sensitive stomach and find you are prone to diarrhoea or nausea, you should take the pill with a meal and drink plenty of water to lessen these effects.

Will the morning after pill change my periods?

Many women experience changes to their period after taking either type of morning after pill. Common changes include lighter or heavier bleeding, earlier or later start and finish dates and spotting between periods. If your period is exceptionally painful or comes more than five days later than it should, you should consult your GP.

Can the morning after pill cause an ectopic pregnancy?

The morning after pill works by preventing ovulation, if ovulation has already occurred then there is still a chance you can become pregnant.
If you take levonorgestrel, and you become pregnant you must consult with your doctor to rule out an ectopic pregnancy. Women at risk of ectopic pregnancies (previous ectopic pregnancies or salpingitis) should avoid taking levonorgestrel . Ectopic pregnancies can be both painful and dangerous, and if you suspect you are pregnant following the morning after pill, you should consult your doctor immediately.

Sources:

http://www.hse.ie/portal/eng/health/az/M/Morning-after-pill/

http://www.ifpa.ie/Sexual-Health-Services/Contraception-Factsheets/Emergency-Contraception

https://www.dred.com/uk/morning-after-pill-side-effects.html

http://www.medicines.ie/medicine/16225/PIL/Prevenelle+1500+microgram+Tablet/

https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/PIL.22275.latest.pdf

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