Case Q: How soon after taking emergency contraception can a patient begin hormonal contraception?

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These two, publicly available, guidelines—the US Medical Eligibility for Contraceptive Use and US Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use—help to direct clinical recommendations



Individuals spend close to half of their lives preventing, or planning for, pregnancy. As such, contraception plays a major role in patient-provider interactions. Contraception counseling and management is a common scenario encountered in the general gynecologist’s practice. Luckily, we have two evidence-based guidelines developed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that support the provision of contraceptive care:

  1. US Medical Eligibility for Contraceptive Use (US-MEC),1 which provides guidance on which patients can safely use a method
  2. US Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use (US-SPR),2 which provides method-specific guidance on how to use a method (including how to: initiate or start a method; manage adherence issues, such as a missed pill, etc; and manage common issues like breakthrough bleeding). Both of these guidelines are updated routinely and are publicly available online or for free, through smartphone applications.

While most contraceptive care is straightforward, there are circumstances that require additional consideration. In this 3-part series we review 3 clinical cases, existing evidence to guide management decisions, and our recommendations. In part 1, we focus on restarting hormonal contraception after ulipristal acetate administration. In parts 2 and 3, we will discuss removal of a nonpalpable contraceptive implant and the consideration of a levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine device (LNG-IUD) for emergency contraception.

Take-home point
  • After using ulipristal acetate for emergency contraception, advise patients to wait at least 5 days to initiate hormonal contraception and about the importance of abstaining or using a back-up method for another 7 days with the start of their hormonal contraceptive method

CASE Meeting emergency and follow-up contraception needs

A 27-year-old woman (G0) presents to you after having unprotected intercourse 4 days ago. She does not formally track her menstrual cycles and is unsure when her last menstrual period was. She is not using contraception but is interested in starting a method. After counseling, she elects to take a dose of oral ulipristal acetate (UPA; Ella) now for emergency contraception and would like to start a combined oral contraceptive (COC) pill moving forward.

How soon after taking UPA should you tell her to start the combined hormonal pill?

Effectiveness of hormonal contraception following UPA

UPA does not appear to decrease the efficacy of COCs when started around the same time. However, immediately starting a hormonal contraceptive can decrease the effectiveness of UPA, and as such, it is recommended to take UPA and then abstain or use a backup method for 7 days before initiating a hormonal contraceptive method.1 By obtaining some additional information from your patient and with the use of shared decision making, though, your patient may be able to start their contraceptive method earlier than 5 days after UPA.

What is UPA

UPA is a progesterone receptor modulator used for emergency contraception intenhded to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure.3 It works by delaying follicular rupture at least 5 days, if taken before the peak of the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge. If taken after that timeframe, it does not work. Since UPA competes for the progesterone receptor, there is a concern that the effectiveness of UPA may be decreased if a progestin-containing form of contraception is started immediately after taking UPA, or vice versa.4 Several studies have now specifically looked at the interaction between UPA and progestin-containing contraceptives, including at how UPA is impacted by the contraceptive method, and conversely, how the contraceptive method is impacted by UPA.5-8

Data on types of hormonal contraception. Brache and colleagues demonstrated that UPA users who started a desogestrel progestin-only pill (DSG POP) the next day had higher rates of ovulation within 5 days of taking UPA (45%), compared with those who the next day started a placebo pill (3%).6 This type of progestin-only pill is not available in the United States.

A study by Edelman and colleagues demonstrated similar findings in those starting a COC pill containing estrogen and progestin. When taking a COC two days after UPA use, more participants had evidence of follicular rupture in less than 5 days.5 It should be noted that these studies focused on ovulation, which—while necessary for conception to occur—is a surrogate biomarker for pregnancy risk. Additional studies have looked at the impact of UPA on the COC and have not found that UPA impacts ovulation suppression of the COC with its initiation or use.8

Considering unprotected intercourse and UPA timing. Of course, the risk of pregnancy is reliant on cycle timing plus the presence of viable sperm in the reproductive tract. Sperm have been shown to only be viable in the reproductive tract for 5 days, which could result in fertilization and subsequent pregnancy. Longevity of an egg is much shorter, at 12 to 24 hours after ovulation. For this patient, her exposure was 4 days ago, but sperm are only viable for approximately 5 days—she could consider taking the UPA now and then starting a COC earlier than 5 days since she only needs an extra day or two of protection from the UPA from the sperm in her reproductive tract. Your patient’s involvement in this decision making is paramount, as only they can prioritize their desire to avoid pregnancy from their recent act of unprotected intercourse versus their immediate needs for starting their method of contraception. It is important that individuals abstain from sexual activity or use an additional back-up method during the first 7 days of starting their method of contraception.

Continue to: Counseling considerations for the case patient...


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