Emergency Hormonal Contraception

What is it?

  • An emergency tablet taken by mouth that protects you from getting pregnant after unprotected sex.
  • There are two types available: Levonorgestrel - effective if taken within 72hrs/3 days of sex and Ulipristal acetate (ellaOne) - effective if taken within 120hrs/5days of sex.

    How does it work?

  • Delays ovulation (the release of an egg) or prevents a fertilised egg from settling (implanting) in your womb lining.
  • May work better if taken as soon as possible after sex – hence the old name “morning after pill”.

    What’s great about it?

  • Is effective and safe with few side effects or long term effects.
  • You can take Levonorgestrel more than once in any given monthly cycle. The same goes for Ulipristal acetate. However, there are some limitations to using both levonorgestrel AND ulipristal acetate within the same cycle so check with your doctor.

    What’s not so great about it?

  • Is not 100% effective - so a few women may become pregnant even after taking it. The emergency coil is more effective – preventing 99% of pregnancies.
  • Will not protect you from any future unprotected sex so starting general contraception is advisable.
  • The emergency pill should not be used as a regular contraceptive.
  • Will not protect against sexually transmitted infections – so condoms are advisable.
  • Will not work if you are already pregnant. Medical research and legal judgement are quite clear that emergency contraception does not cause abortion. Abortion can only take place after a fertilised egg has implanted in the womb/uterus.
  • If you have been taking any progesterone containing medication (eg contraceptive pill or HRT) or plan to immediately start a general method of contraception containing progesterone the effectiveness of Ulipristal acetate may be reduced. The emergency coil or levenorgestrel pill may be more appropriate for you, so check with your doctor or pharmacist

    Where can I get it?

  • Emergency pills are provided free of charge at family planning clinics, sexual health clinics, some GP practices, A and E / NHS Walk in departments and some young people services e.g. Brook.
  • Both emergency pills can be purchased from pharmacies. The costs vary: levenorgestrel can be free for some women but otherwise, costs vary from £5 to £25+; ulipristal acetate can cost up to £35. There may be age restrictions e.g for Levenorgestrel you need to be 16yrs or older.