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Monday, 29 November, 1999, 09:09 GMT
Emergency contraception
Morning-after pill
More women are taking the morning-after pill
With the use of the 'morning after pill' on the rise in the UK, BBC News Online examines how emergency contraception methods work.

Emergency contraception can either be two sets of four pills, or an intrauterine device (IUD).

EC pills are made by Schering, and come in two sets of two pills.

The first set must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. The second set is taken 12 hours later.

Although the 'morning after pill' now contains a lower dose of hormones than original versions of the drug, it can still cause nausea, and is sometimes prescribed with anti-nausea medication.

However, because newer versions of the emergency contraceptive pill contain both oestrogen and progesterone, nausea is less likely to occur than before.

If vomiting does occur, further doses must be taken.

The pills work in a variety of ways, depending at which stage in her cycle the woman is when she takes them.

They can prevent implantation of a fertilised egg, or can prevent the egg being fertlilised.

They are suitable for most women, but it may not be considered appropriate for women with a history of thrombosis, blood clots or migraines.

It is available through GPs who provide contraceptive services, family planning clinics, young persons clinics, Brook Advisory Centres, and some hospital accident and emergency departments.

The other method of emergency contraception is the insertion of an IUD or coil.

This can be done up to five days after unprotected intercourse.

It is more usually done at a GP's or family planning clinic by medical staff qualified to fit them.

They are not suitable for all women, and can cause heavy, painful and irregular periods.

Again, they work in a number of ways depending on the point in her cycle at which a woman has one fitted.

The IUD can physically prevent a fertilised egg from implanting in the uterus, by moving around.

And because IUDs contain either copper or progesterone, they can interfere with the body's biochemistry and prevent an egg from being fertilised.

If a woman wishes to have the device removed following her next period, she must have it done by a doctor.

Details on where emergency contraception will be available over the New Year period are being distributed from pharmacies.

However, health professionals warn that emergency contraception should only be used in the last resort.

It is not intended as a regular form of contraception, and should only be taken extremely sparingly.

Because oral emergency contraception contains a higher hormone dose than standard oral contraceptive, regular use may increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis.

Emergency contraception also raises moral and religious issues for some people who believe it represents a form of early abortion.

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