Plan B and ella® morning after pills: how they work, common side effects and expiry dates

With the uncertainty surrounding the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, many women buy extra doses of emergency contraceptive pills, also known as morning after pills.

There are two types of emergency contraceptive pills:

Plan B –

  • Available over the counter without a prescription. Some pharmacies have it behind the counter, others have it on the shelf in the “family planning” section.
  • Must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex
  • Works by blocking ovulation with a high dose of progesterone
  • Will only prevent pregnancy before ovulation

Ella® –

  • Requires a doctor’s prescription
  • Must be taken within five days of unprotected sex
  • Works by blocking the production of progesterone, which stops ovulation or prevents an egg from attaching to the uterus
  • Will prevent pregnancy both before ovulation and later in the cycle after the luteinizing hormone surge (the change in hormones that triggers ovulation)

Side effects of Plan B and ella®

Both pills can delay your period or cause you to bleed a little earlier than expected. They can both cause nausea.

If you have heavier than normal bleeding, contact a doctor.

Can emergency contraceptive pills cause infertility or ectopic pregnancies?

No, there is no evidence that emergency contraceptive pills like Plan B and ella® cause infertility.

And no, they do not cause or increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy. In fact, they decrease the risk of ectopic pregnancy by preventing pregnancy in the first place.

When to seek medical help

Please contact your doctor, or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our OB-GYNs, if you are:

  • Having bleeding that soaks a towel every hour, for two or more hours
  • Have severe abdominal pain. This could be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy
  • Having trouble keeping pills down or feeling nauseous. A doctor may prescribe anti-nausea medications to help

If you have not had a period within three weeks of taking Plan B or ella®, take a pregnancy test. Contact your doctor if it is positive.

Emergency contraceptive pills have no adverse effect on a pregnancy if they fail to prevent pregnancy.

When emergency contraceptives expire and where to buy them

Plan B has a four year shelf life and ella® has a three year shelf life.

Emergency contraceptive pills are sold at most pharmacies, including all of our Nebraska Medicine pharmacies:

If you’re having trouble finding emergency contraceptive pills at your local pharmacy, try bedside.org. After typing in your zip code, the website lists online stores that will ship the pills to your doorstep.

Do you have questions for an OB-GYN?

If you would like to speak to a doctor about birth control or any other women’s health topic, please call 800.922.0000 to schedule an appointment.

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