Plan B emergency contraception: What you need to know

Amy Hendel Health Guide
  • Let's start by establishing what emergency contraception is.  It's a method of preventing pregnancy when you have had unprotected sex, or when you think a contraception method you used has failed.  You then need some way to prevent the possible pregnancy you suspect may occur.  The drugs you take, called emergency contraception or EC, will contain doses of estrogen and progestin together or separately, and currently two FDA approved options include Preven and Plan B.  Plan B is the EC requested most often.


    Until recently Plan B was administered as two levonorgestrel 0.75 mg pills taken by mouth.  It was also only available until recently by prescription, unless you were 18 years of age or older.  Plan B acts by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary.  It may also prevent fertilization of an already released egg.  And if fertilization has occurred, it can prevent the fertilized egg from implanting.  If the egg has already attached to the uterine wall, then pregnancy has occurred and Plan B will not work. 

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    The big controversy came in late 2003 when an advisory committee submitted a recommendation to the FDA to make Plan B available for women 17 or older without a prescription, requiring those 16 and under to have a written prescription.  The FDA completed its own review and decided against the recommendation. They concluded that there was insufficient evidence that the advisory board's recommendation was safe for young women.  They did, however, give the sponsors of the bill their opinion on what needed to be done to gain the FDA's approval.  In late March of this year a federal judge ordered the FDA to change their position and allow 17 year olds to buy emergency contraception, Plan B, without a prescription and to consider the same for younger women.  Currently women 16 years old and younger still need a prescription for all types of Plan B.


    The most recent news is that a new Plan B, one single pill containing 1.5 mgs of levonorgestrel, is now available (August 2009).  There will also be a generic form of the two pill Plan B once the original Plan B patent expires in late August.  You can actually use a location tracker at to enter your zip code and see which pharmacy in your neighborhood carries Plan B.  This way you can avoid going to a pharmacy that refuses to dispense this drug.  Do not use Plan B in place of routine birth control.  For maximal effectiveness, take Plan B within 72 hours after unproteected sexual intercourse.  The only way to know if it effectively prevented a pregnancy is when you get your next period.  You should start using your regular method of birth control after taking Plan B.  It's important to understand that if your period is more than 7 days late after you take Plan B, you may be pregnant.  Side effects from Plan B can include:

    • Nausea
    • Abdominal pain
    • Headache
    • Dizziness
    • Diarrhea
    • Breast tenderness
    • Fatigue
    • Changes in your next period (lighter or heavier)
    • Severe abdominal pain may signal an ectopic (outside the uterus) pregnancy

    In order to obtain reimbursement for Plan B, you would have to present a prescription to the dispensing pharmacy.  Not all insurance companies will reimburse for this drug. 



Published On: August 19, 2009