Ella, a new emergency contraceptive that can prevent pregnancy within 120 hours after intercourse, joins two other pills approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically for this purpose. Ella, however, beats out the other pills by providing protection for 48 hours longer.
Other Emergency Contraceptive Pills
Two other FDA-approved emergency contraceptive pills are currently on the market. Plan B One-Step and Next Choice reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent when they are started within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. These pills contain the hormone progestin (levonorgestrel) alone. Next Choice is a generic product that is bioequivalent to Plan B.
Birth control pills also can be used as emergency contraception when they are used as directed by a physician, as each type requires a different dose to be effective. These pills contain two hormones, progestin and estrogen. When started within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse, birth control pills reduce the risk of pregnancy by 75 percent.
Ella, a New Emergency Contraceptive
Ella (ulipristal acetate), which is available by prescription only as a 30-mg tablet, has been available in Europe since May 2009 under the name ellaOne. The United States version will be available by the fourth quarter of 2010.
When the FDA’s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee unanimously voted to approve ulipristal in June 2010, the committee members agreed there is no scientific evidence to indicate that the drug causes abortion when taken as recommended. Use of Ella can, however, cause side effects, including headache, fatigue, dizziness, abdominal pain, dysmenorrhea, and nausea.
Women who have unprotected intercourse have about a one in 20 chance of becoming pregnant. Use of Plan B within three days reduces the risk to about 1 in 40, while regulators say Ella would reduce the risk to about 1 in 50. Research shows that Ella is less effective in women who are obese.
As with the other emergency contraceptives on the market, Ella should not be taken by women who are known or suspected to be pregnant, or who are breastfeeding.
Ella is manufactured by HRA Pharma, a French drug producer. The new 5-day emergency contraceptive will be distributed in the United States by Watson Pharmaceuticals.
New York Times, August 13, 2010