Can you use birth control pills as emergency contraception?

When the condom splits, a steamy affair can quickly turn sour. But there are several emergency contraceptive options available.


If you’re worried about pregnancy after unprotected sex, the morning-after or emergency contraceptive pill is available in pharmacies across the country. The emergency pill can be taken up to 120 hours after sex. It comes in two doses and the second dose must be taken 12 hours after the first dose. Emergency contraception often contains estrogen and progestin (levonorgestrel) at higher levels than the regular combined contraceptive pill. It reduces the risk of pregnancy by 75%. The sooner you take it after unprotected sex, the more effective it is.

There are many different brands of emergency contraceptives including Ella, AfterPill, My Way and Option 2. The cost ranges from $35 to $60 depending on the brand.

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You can also choose to take a higher dose of a combined oral contraceptive. Although regular contraceptive pills aren’t marketed for emergency use, they have been shown to be just as effective. As with the emergency pill, you must take the first dose within 120 hours after unprotected sex and a second dose 12 hours later.

Although regular birth control pills are safe to use in emergency situations and no major side effects have been reported, here are a couple of things you need to know:

  1. Stick to one brand. Don’t mix different contraceptive pills as they usually will contain different doses of active ingredients. If you are sure that the active ingredients are the same (e.g. between a branded and a generic pill), you can mix them. Do not however, mix emergency contraceptives with regular contraceptives.
  2. Do not take more than the recommended doses (see table below).
  3. If you experience any severe side effects, call a doctor right away. Some mild nausea is normal but should go away within a few hours.
  4. You should expect to have your period as iusual over the following month.
  5. Consider a reliable contraceptive method such as a hormonal contraceptive for future use. Although there is no research to suggest that repeated use of emergency contraception has a negative effect on health, regular use of emergency contraception is not advised.


Overview of emergency and regular combined birth control pills available in the U.S. and dosage for emergency contraception.

Emergency Contraception

Regular combined oral contraceptive

Medical conditions that can cause erectile dysfunction

Reproduced from



  1. Cleland, K., Raymond, E. G., Westley, E., & Trussell, J. (2014). Emergency contraception review: evidence-based recommendations for clinicians. Clinical obstetrics and gynecology, 57(4), 741–750. doi:10.1097/GRF.0000000000000056
  2. Emergency Contraception: Combined pills as emergency contraceptives. (2019). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from <>
  3. Emergency Contraception: Pill brands, doses, and instructions. (2019). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from <>
  4. Generic Name: levonorgestrel) tablet, 1., & AfterPill, B. (2019). AfterPill (Levonorgestrel) Tablet, 1.5 mg): Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. RxList. Retrieved October 20, 2019, from <>

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