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New Morning-After Pill OK'd

Morning-after pills, also known as emergency contraceptives, are used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. Now, women have another choice when it comes to this form of birth control, reports CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.

The Food and Drug Administration has just approved a new emergency contraceptive that will be marketed under the brand name Plan B. While it's not the first emergency contraceptive to hit the market, its manufacturers say Plan B causes less nausea and vomiting than a product currently on the market.

Plan B consists of two pills containing a synthetic hormone called levonorgestrel. The first pill is to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, and the second pill, 12 hours after that. It works by blocking conception or fertilization and reduces the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent if it's used appropriately.

The Plan B pill is very different from the abortion pill. It is used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex before a pregnancy has taken hold, while the abortion pill is used after fertilization has taken place.

The new product is not a substitute for regular routine birth control; it should only be used in emergencies, doctors warn. Women who are already pregnant or suspect they might be should not take this pill. Women who have had irregular menstrual bleeding in the past also should not take it.

Susan Cruzan, an FDA spokeswoman, said Thursday that studies suggest Plan B is as effective as the current product on the market, but has less severe side effects.

A "morning-after" contraceptive technique approved earlier by the FDA involves the selective use of pills normally used for monthly contraceptive protection. A kit containing only the required pills, and sold under the brand name PREVEN, is now on the market. It follows what is called the Yuzpe regimen, which uses four hormone pills, including levonorgestrel, and must be started within 72 hours after unprotected sex.

Studies sponsored by the World Health Organization in 15 countries and involving about 3,000 women showed that levonorgestrel used by itself is also an effective emergency contraceptive and causes less nausea and vomiting.

The studies showed that the use of Plan B reduces the risk of pregnancy from a single act of unprotected sex from about 8 percent to 1 percent.

In addition to nausea and vomiting, Plan B can, in some patients, cause abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, changes in menstrual bleeding, dizziness and breast tenderness.

Plan B will be distributed in the United States by Women's Capital Corp. and initially will be available by prescription through Planned Parenthood Clinics. Pharmacists in Washington state also will have access to the drug during its initial distribution.

A WCC announcement said that Plan B will eventually be available in markets nationwide. WCC is a privately held company that was organized to bring Plan B to U.S. and Canadian markets. Financing for evelopment of Plan B has come from several U.S. charitable foundations, along with five Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Information about Plan B is available through a 24-hour phone line: 888-NOT-2-LATE. An emergency contraception web site can be addressed at www.go2planb.com.

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