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Emergency contraceptive pills: a review of the recent literature

Conard, Lee Ann E; Gold, Melanie A

Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology: October 2004 - Volume 16 - Issue 5 - p 389-395
Adolescent and pediatric gynecology

Purpose of review The purpose of this review is to inform the reader of new information published since early 2003 about emergency contraception, with a particular focus on issues of access.

Recent findings Research continues to document low but increasing levels of knowledge about emergency contraception, increasing use, and more positive attitudes towards emergency contraception by both patients and healthcare providers. Additional information is available about efficacy and mechanisms of action. More reports of side-effects have been published, as have studies relating to the impact of emergency contraception on sexual and contracepting behaviors. Advance provision, provision by pharmacists, and over-the-counter status have been studied as ways to improve access to emergency contraception.

Summary Knowledge about the efficacy, safety, types and use of emergency contraception continues to increase. Although patients have greater awareness of and more access to emergency contraception, there are still numerous barriers to its use even in countries where it is available over the counter. Healthcare providers must continue to educate themselves and their patients about emergency contraception even when it becomes available over the counter. In countries where emergency contraception is only available by prescription, providers should offer an advance prescription or supply (where available), and use newer dosing regimens for levonorgestrel-only emergency contraception to increase adherence and efficacy. Developing collaborative practice agreements with pharmacists to increase access is also recommended. Patients should be counseled to seek follow-up if no menses occurs within 3 weeks of taking emergency contraception or if symptoms such as lower abdominal pain occur after the use of emergency contraception.

Department of Pediatrics, West Virginia University School of Medicine, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA and Division of Adolescent Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Correspondence to Lee Ann E. Conard, Department of Pediatrics, PO Box 9214, West Virginia University School of Medicine, Morgantown, WV 26506-9214, USA Tel: +1 304 293 7331; fax: +1 304 293 1241; e-mail:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.