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Emergency contraception

Pregnancy occurs after sex when a male sperm goes into a female egg, called fertilization.

Emergency contraception is a way of preventing pregnancy after you have had sex without contraception or if the contraception has failed. It is available for women of all ages.

Emergency contraception can be obtained, in person, from:
  • Contraception clinics
  • Brook Centres
  • Some Pharmacies
  • Sexual Health Clinics
  • NHS walk in centres
  • Some NHS minor injury units
  • Some hospital accident and emergency units
  • Most GP surgeries

Emergency contraception cannot be obtained on behalf of another person.

Types of Emergency Contraception

There are three types of emergency contraception:
  • Levonelle - Progesterone only pills (Levonorgestrel)
  • EllaOne - Progesterone receptor modulator – (Ulipristal Acetate)
  • Copper IUD (Intra-uterine device) - a very small device inserted into the womb

All three types can be very effective, but are to be used within a certain time limit, following sex.
The sooner you receive emergency contraception, the more effective it will be.

How does Emergency Contraception work?

Levonelle (Progesterone only pills – Levonorgestrel):

  • Prevents the egg from being released (Ovulation)for 5-7 days, by which time any sperm that is present will be unable to fertilise the egg
  • If you take this before you release an egg (ovulate) it prevents the egg releasing

(ovulation means the releasing of an egg and it occurs roughly halfway through your menstrual cycle, usually around 10 to 16 days before the start of your next period).

EllaOne (Progesterone receptor modulator – Ulipristal Acetate):

  • Release of the egg is delayed
  • Prevents the egg implanting in the womb

The IUD:

  • Copper is toxic to the egg and the sperm
  • This makes it work as soon as it is inserted into the womb and works mainly by preventing fertilization
  • If fertilisation has already happened, it helps to prevent the egg implanting in the womb

What is the Time Limit for Emergency Contraception?

Levonelle95%241Available free of charge on
prescription or can be
bought from your local pharmacy
if you are over 16
85%25 - 48Up to 2
58%49 - 72Up to 3
EllaOneMost effective if
taken as soon as possible
after unprotected sex
1205 daysOnly available on prescription
Copper IUD The most
effective method,
almost 100% successful
1205 daysMust be fitted into your womb
by a doctor or nurse

How will Emergency Contraception affect me?

  • May cause feelings of sickness, tiredness, headaches, dizziness and breast tenderness.
  • Your next period could be early or late.
  • You should use a barrier method of contraception (e.g. Condom) until your next period.
  • Ask your GP, practise nurse or sexual health clinic if you get low abdominal pain, or if your period is lighter/heavier/shorter or absent.
  • You may also want to speak to someone about the risk of getting an STI.
  • Generally Emergency Contraception is a safe and effective way of preventing an unintentional pregnancy.


Information Standard Quality Mark logo
View the evidence regarding ‘Emergency Contraception’.

Information last reviewed June 2014. Next review due June 2015.

We are not able to refer directly for termination. We offer clients information on all the options and are well resourced to provide both immediate and long term support as necessary, directing to other agencies as appropriate.
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