Plan B vs Birth Control: Comparing the Differences

Monali Sharma
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Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
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plan b vs birth control

While seeking a method to avert conception, one might contemplate the use of birth control pills or Plan B. 

Although both approaches demonstrate efficacy, they diverge in numerous aspects. 

Plan B is an emergency contraceptive, whereas birth control is a sustained pregnancy prevention method.

This ‘Plan B vs Birth Control’ article will compare and contrast birth control pills and Plan B, focusing on their availability, efficacy, adverse effects, and usage.

Overview

Plan B and birth control pills differ in usage, effectiveness, availability, side effects, etc.

This table offers a comprehensive look at most of the differences between Plan B and birth control.

CriteriaPlan B (Emergency contraception)Birth control
PurposeStops pregnancy after unprotected sex or failed contraceptivePrevents pregnancy on an ongoing basis
Timing of useShould be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, ideally within 72 hoursTaken daily, regardless of sexual activity, to maintain continuous contraception
Type of medicationSingle-dose or two-dose hormonal pillVarious forms, including pills, patches, injections, implants, and Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)
HormonesContains Levonorgestrel, a Progestin hormoneMay include solely Progestin or a mix of Estrogen and Progestin
Mechanism of actionDelays ovulation, interferes with fertilization, or prevents implantation of a fertilized eggPrevents ovulation, thickens cervical mucus to impede sperm, and modifies the uterine lining to prevent implantation
EffectivenessEarly use after unprotected sex is most effective. Less effective than birth controlHigh effectiveness when used consistently and correctly. Methods vary in effectiveness
AvailabilityAvailable over-the-counter without a prescription in many countriesRequires a prescription in some cases, depending on the type of birth control
STI preventionOffers no protection against STIsDoes not protect against STIs; condoms are recommended for STI prevention
Side effectsNausea, fatigue, changes in menstrual cycle, etc.Nausea, weight gain, mood changes, etc.
CostTypically more expensive than regular birth control methodsCost varies depending on the type of birth control and insurance coverage
Long-term planningNot suitable as a primary method of contraceptionCan be used as a primary method for long-term family planning

What is Plan B

Plan B, an emergency contraception, can be used following unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure. 

It contains a synthetic form of the hormone Progesterone (called Progestin), which inhibits ovulation and may hinder implantation. 

Plan B is available without a prescription over-the-counter and is most effective when taken within 72 hours following unprotected sex.

Fact:
Emergency contraceptive pills are 95% effective if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, 85% effective if taken within 25-48 hours, and 58% effective if taken within 49-72 hours

What are birth control pills

Woman holding birth control pillsSource: towfiqu_ahamed_barbhuiya
Woman holding birth control pills

Daily use of birth control tablets, which are a form of hormonal contraception, prevents pregnancy.

They contain synthetic Estrogen and Progestin, which prevent sperm from accessing the egg through cervical mucus thickening.

Birth control pills are only available with a prescription.

They are extremely successful when used correctly, with a failure rate of less than 1%.

Warning:
Do not take oral contraceptive pills without consulting a doctor if you have pre-existing cardiovascular conditions or Hypertension. It may cause a stroke or a heart attack.

Key differences between Plan B and birth control pills

Regular birth control pills prevent pregnancy, while Plan B—“the morning after pill”—prevents pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure.

Out of all the differences, some key differences are discussed below for a ‘Plan B vs birth control’ understanding:

Plan B vs Birth Control: Usage

The primary distinction lies in the timing and purpose. 

Plan B is a reactive measure for emergencies, while birth control is a proactive, ongoing approach to prevent pregnancies.

When consumed on a daily basis, birth control pills offer continuous protection against pregnancy. 

In contrast, Plan B is taken as a single dose after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure.

Plan B vs Birth Control: Effectiveness

Consistency is key with birth control. 

Perfect use yields a higher effectiveness rate but requires adherence to daily, weekly, or monthly routines, depending on the chosen method.

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Plan B is also effective, but less so than birth control pills, with a failure rate of 25% to 89%, depending on how soon it is taken after unprotected sex.

The effectiveness of Plan B is time-sensitive. 

Taking it as soon as possible after unprotected sex significantly enhances its ability to prevent pregnancy.

Plan B vs Birth Control: Affordability and availability

While birth control medications require a prescription, the majority of emergency contraception pills, including Plan B, are available for purchase over the counter.

Plan B is generally less expensive than many birth control methods. 

Its over-the-counter availability also contributes to affordability.

Plan B vs Birth Control: Side effects

Nausea - side effectSource: Antonio_Diaz_from_Getty_Images
Nausea – side effect

Both birth control pills and Plan B can cause similar side effects, such as nausea, headache, breast tenderness or pain, and irregular bleeding/menstrual changes.

However, there may be a few side effects specific to each birth control method.

Common side effects of Plan B include nausea, fatigue, headache, and changes in menstrual cycles. 

These effects are generally short-lived and are resolved without medical intervention.

Birth control side effects may include nausea, weight gain, mood changes, and breast tenderness. 

These often diminish after the initial adjustment period.

Conclusion

The choice between Plan B and birth control hinges on individual needs and circumstances. 

Plan B is an emergency contraception used after unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure, but it is less effective than routine birth control. 

Birth control pills, on the other hand, present a sustained and proactive approach to preventing pregnancies when used consistently and correctly. 

The key differentiators include timing and purpose, with Plan B designed for reactive, infrequent use and birth control for ongoing, routine contraception. 

While birth control demands daily adherence for optimal effectiveness, Plan B’s efficacy is contingent on prompt usage after unprotected intercourse. 

Affordability and accessibility vary, with Plan B often more accessible and cost-effective, especially given its over-the-counter availability. 

Both methods carry side effects, but the nature and duration may differ. 

Ultimately, the decision between Plan B and birth control should align with an individual’s reproductive goals, lifestyle, and the urgency of the situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Plan B the same as birth control pills?

No, Plan B and birth control pills are not the same. Plan B is an emergency contraceptive used after unprotected sex. At the same time, birth control pills are a regular, ongoing method to prevent pregnancy.

Is Plan B or birth control better?

The choice between Plan B and birth control depends on individual needs. Plan B is effective for emergency contraception, while birth control provides ongoing prevention. The decision should align with personal circumstances and reproductive goals.

Can I take my birth control instead of Plan B?

Yes, in some cases, taking a higher dose of regular birth control pills can function similarly to Plan B for emergency contraception. However, consulting a healthcare professional for proper dosage and effectiveness guidance is crucial.

Can I use Plan B as a regular form of contraception?

No, Plan B is not intended for regular use. It is designed as an emergency contraceptive for use after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. Consistent, routine contraception should be achieved through dedicated birth control methods.

Citations:
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