What is emergency contraception?
Emergency contraception refers to the methods used after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy from taking place. There are two types of emergency contraception, the copper coil (IUD), and the 'morning after pill'. Both types must be used within 5 days of unprotected sex to be effective.
Is taking emergency contraception the same as having an abortion?
No, emergency contraception prevents pregnancy from happening, while an abortion terminates a pregnancy that is already in progress. Emergency contraception is not always completely effective in preventing pregnancy, (particularly if it is taken too late) as it cannot stop the development of a pregnancy once an egg has been fertilised and implanted in the womb.
In the case of an unwanted pregnancy, one option is to speak to a doctor about getting an abortion. To learn more, visit the NHS website, your GP or your local family planning clinic.
What types of emergency contraception are there?
There are two types of emergency contraception that can prevent pregnancy:
The 'morning after pill':
- Levonorgestrel (often known as Levonelle), effective up to 3 days after unprotected sex, but most effective when taken as early as possible
- ellaOne, effective for up to 5 days after unprotected sex
An emergency coil, or IUD, effective up to 5 days after unprotected sex
Either type of emergency contraception can be very effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly and within the correct time frame.
The morning after pill
Emergency contraception pills Levonorgestrel and ellaOne are stocked in our online clinic. Both types can be used after unprotected sex to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
Levonorgestrel contains a high dose of a synthetic form of progesterone that is also used in some routine contraceptive pills - while ellaOne contains ulipristal acetate. Both pills prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation and/or fertilisation.
Neither type of morning after pill can be used as long-term contraception, as both are designed for one-off use.
You should also bear in mind that neither Levonorgestrel or ellaOne protects against sexually transmitted infections (STI). If you think you might be at risk of an STI, you should consider getting tested. Visit our sexual health clinic for more information.
Is Levonorgestrel suitable for me?
There are some minor side effects associated with both Levonorgestrel and ellaOne, which include nausea, breast tenderness and stomach pain. However, most women do not experience a reaction to Levonorgestrel. Certain conditions may make Levonorgestrel less suitable for you.
If you vomit within 3 hours of taking either Levonorgestrel or ellaOne, there is a good chance that the medicine has not been absorbed by your body, and therefore will not work. Please consult your doctor in this instance for a suitable alternative plan.
The biggest consideration is that Levonorgestrel is most effective when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex (95% chance of preventing pregnancy) - although it can be effective for up to 72 hours (58% chance of preventing pregnancy). This means that it will only be suitable for you if you have had unprotected sex within the past 72 hours.
It is also thought that the alternative morning after pill, ellaOne, is more effective at preventing pregnancy after the initial 24 hours have passed. If you had unprotected sex two days ago, for instance, your chances of avoiding pregnancy might be higher if you took ellaOne rather than Levonorgestrel.
Is ellaOne suitable for me?
Like Levonorgestrel, ellaOne can come with some mild side effects, but is still suitable for the majority of women to use. There are some recognised medical conditions which are not conducive to taking ellaOne, including severe asthma.
As ellaOne can be used effectively for up to 5 days and not just 3, some women may choose to take it to increase their chances of avoiding pregnancy, rather than using Levonorgestrel.
The copper coil
The coil is a device commonly used by women as a form of long-term contraception, however it can also be used as emergency contraception. It is a T-shaped device made from plastic and copper that is inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy.
If you have had unprotected sex then you can get the IUD fitted within five days and it should stop you from getting pregnant (it is 99.9% effective as an emergency contraceptive). To do this, you will have to visit your GP or local sexual health clinic. The IUD can also be left in once it has been inserted and used as long-term contraception.
Depending on the version used, it can be an effective form of contraception for 5 to 10 years. This makes it a sensible choice of emergency contraception for women who do not want to get pregnant for the time being. Fertility will return to normal on removal of the coil - this is again done by a doctor or specialist nurse.
Is the copper coil suitable for me?
Although there can be some discomfort (usually like period cramps) when having the IUD fitted, it can be used by the majority of women. Periods can be heavier after insertion but this tends to settle and your cycle ought to remain the same. The coil should not be fitted, however, if you have:
- an untreated pelvic infection or sexually transmitted infection
- unexplained vaginal bleeding
- some abnormalities of the cervix or womb
The doctor or nurse fitting the coil will talk to you beforehand to make sure the coil is appropriate for you. For more information, visit your GP or local sexual health clinic.