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Emergency Pill Wahala! Why's My Period All Over The Place?

What caused your periods to change after using the emergency pill? Why do you have irregular bleeding since taking the pill? From a delay in your menstrual periods to heavier or even lighter bleeding, many changes can happen after using the emergency contraceptive pill causing wahala (Nigerian pidgin for 'trouble') to many users! Read on as we explore this topic or click below to watch on youtube:

Introduction

Women take the emergency birth control pill to prevent an unplanned pregnancy either following unprotected sex or if their contraceptive method fails.

But many of us end up worried when something goes wrong with our menstrual periods after taking the emergency contraceptive pill.

So let's look at two main questions asked when it comes to bleeding trouble on the pill:

What caused your periods to change after the EBC pill?; and

Does abnormal bleeding after Emergency Contraception mean it failed?


Types of Emergency Contraceptive Pill

There are presently two main methods for emergency contraception:

Taking emergency pills or having the intrauterine coil within some hours or days of unprotected sex.

Both of these methods can affect your periods (vaginal bleeding pattern), but in this post, let's look at the emergency pills.

Most of the emergency pills are most effective when you take them as soon as possible following unprotected sexual intercourse.

For some of the pills, there is a window period after UPSI where they will work if you take them.

Progesterone containing Emergency Pill - Levonorgestrel

The most common pills contain human-made versions of Progesterone, the sex hormone produced by the ovary.

Levonorgestrel in the birth control pills needs to be used within 72 hours of sex - whether you are taking just one pill (Postinor or Levonelle) or taking two pills 12 hours apart (Postinor 2).

And it works by delaying ovulation - the release of an egg from the ovary.

Common brands are Postinor, Postpill, Levonelle, Plan B One-Step, Take Action,  My Way and so on.

Anti-Progesterone Emergency Pill - Ulipristal

Another type of morning-after pill prevents natural progesterone from working normally and thus ALSO stops or delays the release of an egg.

This pill contains Ulipristal, and it is effective when taken for up to 5 days (120 hours) after sexual intercourse.

Commonly its sold as Ella, EllaOne.

In some countries, they use some forms of the regular combined pill as emergency birth control, but some studies suggest they are less effective than Levonorgestrel while a fourth method uses a pill containing Mifepristone a drug often used for induction of labour.


Emergency Pill formulations
Emergency Pill Formulations

So the most common types of the EC pill are either human-made hormones or natural agents which affect the release of the egg and will contribute to bleeding problems.


Expected Bleeding Pattern on the Birth Control Pills

Here are expected bleeding patterns on the BC pills which should NOT alarm you:

  1. The emergency contraceptive pill can make your next period arrive earlier
  2. Your next period could come later due to the Emergency Contraception pill
  3. The EC pill could make your next period more heavy and painful than usual.


How Do the Actions of the Morning After Pill Affect Your Cycle?

First, here are two facts:

A menstrual cycle is the period from one menstrual period to the next, usually about 28 days in most women but can be slightly shorter or longer.

And number two: following sex, sperm can survive for up to 5 days within the womb.

"After using the pill once in a cycle, there is an increased risk of falling pregnant if you have unprotected sexual intercourse later on in that same cycle".

This is why we recommend having regular contraception in place if you are sexually active and wish to avoid unplanned pregnancy.

Therefore, bear this in mind - the emergency birth control pills you take today to prevent pregnancy from sex yesterday WILL NOT protect you from getting pregnant if you have sex tomorrow.

When you take the emergency pill after sex, ovulation is delayed for up to 5 days, until sperm from that sexual activity is no longer viable.

It can result in the changes to your period - coming earlier or later or having a heavy menstrual flow.

Effect of Using the Emergency Pill More Than Once In One Cycle

These changes are more likely to happen if you take the pill more than once in a cycle.

Although it is not known to cause any harm and can continue to delay ovulation, frequently using the birth control pill more than once in a cycle can cause irregular or frequent bleeding.

The majority (75%) of women have their period within seven days of the expected date; in 10-20% of cases depending on the type of EC pill, they were more than seven days late.

A tiny percentage of women get their periods earlier than when due.

For pills like Ella, four per cent in the delayed group saw their periods delayed 20 days later than expected.

Can your manner of bleeding on the Emergency Pill indicate its failure?

So if you have a heavy bleed could it mean the pill has not worked?

No - the best way to check if the EC pill worked is by monitoring your dates - the date you took the pill, and when your next period is due.

HOWEVER!!! A rule of thumb is: do a pregnancy test if :

  • your menses are delayed for more than seven days over the expected date
  • Your next period appears lighter than usual;
  • you experience abdominal pain that is different/more severe than regular period cramps.

So what have we learned?

  • Expected side effects of the emergency pills do include irregular periods - early/later and heavier bleeds, and this happens more if the pills are used in place of regular contraception method.
  • There are no serious side effects of using emergency contraception.

Rounding Up...

Bleeding after sex or bleeding between periods should never be ignored - they may suggest serious problems like cervical cancer.

And finally, please keep in mind - none of the emergency pills protects you from an STI (sexually transmitted infections).

If you don't practice safe sex, this could be another reason for having abnormal bleeding while taking the pill!!

We hope you find this useful and informative - could you share with your experiences on the emergency contraceptive pill or any questions in the comments below?


More Reading

References

Editing By AskAwayHealth

Disclaimer

All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly through info@askawayhealth.org

Image Credits – Canva

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