ella ™ is believed to work by preventing the ovum (egg) from leaving the ovary. It may be effective up to 120 hours after unprotected sex. It also may be effective when intended contraception fails, e.g., when there is a condom malfunction. The medication has been available in Europe for over a year. Its trade name there is ellaOne™. No serious side effects were found in clinical trials, although ella may cause headache, nausea, abdominal pain, pain/discomfort during menstruation (dysmenorrhea), fatigue, and dizziness. It is available only with a prescription.
The drug was approved August 13, 2010, by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after a scientific review for safety and efficacy. FDA approved information from the pharmaceutical provider includes the following:
- The drug should not be used if the woman is already pregnant. A pregnancy test may be necessary before prescribing the drug. It may harm the fetus.
- Only one 30 mg tablet is necessary, to be swallowed by the woman.
- It does not prevent diseases like HIV/AIDS or syphilis.
- Fertility returns rapidly after taking the pill, so further sexual activity must include reliable contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
- Certain medications such as phenytoin (Dilantin™ ) and non-prescription nostrums such as St. John’s Wort will interfere with ella, and may destroy its effectiveness.
- The drug does show up in breast milk. It is not recommended for nursing mothers.
The chemical name for the drug is ulipristal acetate . It acts like progesterone, and prevents follicular rupture (expulsion of the egg) in the ovary. Since conception occurs after the egg travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus, preventing the initiation of this journey will prevent conception.
How long a drug stays in the body after it is swallowed is estimated by its half life, which is the time for half the drug to disappear, that is, for the drug level to go down to half. The half life of ella is estimated at 28 to 40 hours. That means the drug is gone in a few days.
No drug is perfect. About two pregnancies occurred in 1000 women using this drug to prevent pregnancy. The drug may be less effective in heavy women, those with a BMI greater than 30.
If the woman vomits within three hours after taking the tablet, she should contact her physician to discuss whether or not to take another dose.
If severe abdominal pain occurs three to five weeks after taking ella, it may be from an ectopic pregnancy. This is a life threatening emergency; the woman should seek immediate care.