Emergency Contraception

What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency contraception (EC) is designed to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse. EC are hormone pills that can prevent ovulation, fertilization, and implantation. EC is a time-sensitive medication and should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex to be considered effective.

EC should be taken as soon as possible after an episode of unprotected intercourse (UPI):

  • Levonorgestrel pills may be taken up to 72 hours after UPI
  • Ulipristal/Ella may be taken up to 120 hours after UPI

Examples of emergency contraception include: Levonorgestrel pills (Plan B One-Step, Take Action, My Way, AfterPill, Aftera, and EContra) or Ulipristal acetate tablets (ella). Additionally, an intrauterine device (IUD) can also serve as a form of emergency contraception if it is inserted within five days of unprotected sex.

Levonorgestrel(LVN):  Over the counter EC option available at the pharmacy without a prescription. Taking levonorgestrel within three days of unprotected sex can lower the chance of getting pregnant by 75-89% (Planned Parenthood). However, LVN may not work effectively if you weigh over 165 pounds.

Ulipristal acetate (UPA): A single-dose tablet form of EC that requires a prescription.  UPA can lower your chance of getting pregnant by 85% if you take it within five days of having unprotected sex. However, UPA may not work effectively if you weigh over 195 pounds.

To learn more about the different types of emergency contraception, visit Planned Parenthood: What Kind of Emergency Contraception Is Best For Me? (plannedparenthood.org) and Bedsider.org

Where can you get EC on campus (Boston Campus) 

Wellness Vending Machine  

  •  Location: Marino Center Atrium, 369 Huntington Avenue 
  • Cost: $7.00 

University Health and Counseling Services 

Off Campus  

Connecting with someone at UHCS  

We encourage you to seek support from a clinician to discuss your options and make the best choice for you. UHCS services are available via telehealth or in-person appointment to students located in Massachusetts. To schedule an appointment at UHCS, please call 617.373.2772 during hours of operation. In this appointment, the clinician will talk with you about how EC works, review potential side effects, and make recommendations for care. When you call UHCS for an appointment, please let the Patient Associate who answers the phone know that you are seeking an appointment to discuss Emergency Contraception. If a same-day appointment is not available when you call, the Patient Associate can arrange for a nurse to reach out to you by phone to discuss options and answer questions. 

Should you experience a medical emergency, please call NUPD at 617.373.3333 or go to your nearest Emergency Department 

Will my meeting with a provider at UHCS be confidential?  

All services at UHCS are confidential, and no one outside of UHCS will be contacted without your consent. For more info about confidentiality and its limits, visit https://uhcs.northeastern.edu/about-uhcs/confidentiality-statement/ 

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I consider using EC?

  • If no contraceptive was used
  • If you believe your primary birth control method did not work (ex: a condom broke)
  • If sexual intercourse was unintended or unwanted

Can I use EC as my regular form of birth control?

  • No. While EC is effective at preventing pregnancy, it should not be used as a regular form of birth control.

Will emergency contraception protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

  • No, emergency contraceptives do not protect against STIs. The most effective way to reduce your STI risk is to use a safer sex product including oral dams and internal and external condoms.

What happens if I use EC more than once?

  • There is no evidence to suggest that repeated use of the EC pill is dangerous.  However, if you do not wish to become pregnant, we encourage you to talk to a medical provider about a regular contraceptive method that might work best for you.

Does EC have side effects?

  • The most common side effects are nausea and vomiting. To mitigate these side effects, it is recommended to take EC with food, or you may elect to take prescription or over-the-counter anti-nausea medication. We recommend connecting with a healthcare provider if you have questions about possible side effects or if you have persistent side effects after taking the medication. *If you vomit within 3 hours after taking EC, you should take another dose of EC  as soon as possible.
  • Side Effects can include
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Painful menses (dysmenorrhea)
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Menstrual changes
  • Breast tenderness
  • Changes to menstrual cycle/Irregular bleeding/spotting
  • Vomiting

What are the risks of taking EC?

  • EC is relatively safe and does not cause long-term side effects or affect your ability to get pregnant in the future.

When should I not use EC?

  • EC will not work if pregnancy is already established.
  • EC’s effectiveness will vary based on weight limits. Levonorgestrel may not work effectively for those weighing more than 165 lbs, while Ulipristal may not work effectively if you weigh more than 195 lbs. Never take a double dose of EC without consulting with a healthcare provider.  Certain IUDs will work as emergency contraception regardless of weight and are recommended for those of higher body weights. Read more on the weight limits of EC on Planned Parenthood’s website.

When can I start/resume taking birth control pills after using EC?

  • Levonorgestrel: Birth control pills can be started or resumed immediately after use of this form of EC.
  • Ulipristal: Birth control pills should be started or resumed no sooner than five days after the use of this form of EC.

What happens to the menstrual cycle?

  • Your menses will typically return within one week of your next anticipated period. If you do not get a period within one week of your next anticipated menses, we recommend that you take a pregnancy test (at-home or schedule an appointment at  UHCS for a test).