Plan B side-effects?

Originally Published: October 9, 2009
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Dear Alice,

I took Plan B (emergency contraception) about 10 days ago, and I am still feeling nauseated. I am not on birth control because all forms oral, nuva ring, and the patch caused me to have extreme side effects (vomiting in some cases, lots of nausea, bad headaches, heartburn, and extreme mood swings). Due to my body being so sensitive, should I assume it is normal for the Plan B to have affected me in this way?


Dear Reader,

It's unusual for emergency contraception like Plan B to cause prolonged nausea even if you have a sensitive stomach, so something else may be going on with your body. Since you haven't been feeling well for over a week, it may be time to pay a visit to a health care provider. 

Plan B is a form of emergency contraception (EC), essentially a super-charged dose of birth control that a woman can take after unprotected sex to prevent a pregnancy. EC comes in two forms — progestin-only pills like Plan B and "combined" pills that contain two different kinds of hormones. Side effects like nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain are less common with the profestin-only pills. For example, about one in four women get sick to their stomach after taking progestin-only pills, compared to half of women who take combined pills. Similarly, only six percent of women who take progestin-only pills throw up versus 23 percent of women who take combined EC. To prevent feeling green, you can take an over-the-counter or prescribed anti-nausea medicine.

All that being said, it's possible that taking EC caused your initial tummy trouble. However, these side effects usually subside within a couple days so there may be another reason for your ongoing queasiness. For other possible causes of your nausea take a look at Nausea: Causes and treatments in the Go Ask Alice! general health archive. You may know that nausea or morning sickness can be an early sign of pregnancy, beginning as early as two weeks after conception. Progestin-only EC is 89 percent effective if taken within five days of unprotected sex. To rule out the possibility of pregnancy, you may want to take a home test or visit a women's health care provider.

Students at Columbia can make an appointment at Primary Care Medical Services (PCMS) by calling x4-2284 or visiting Open Communicator. During your visit, make sure to talk about your history of birth control side effects with the clinician so s/he can accurately diagnose your nausea. You can also get a pregnancy test to confirm that your EC worked as intended. Lastly, you may also want ask the clinician about other forms of contraception. Male or female condoms, the copper IUD, and the sponge are suitable choices for women like yourself who cannot use hormonal methods. For more info about these non-hormonal methods, check out Hormonal birth control not an option — blood clotting disorder or the section called Non-hormonal options and choices in the Alice! sexual health archive.

Hopefully visiting a health care provider will put your mind and your tummy at ease!