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Emergency contraception


NB Adapted from NHS Choices plus info from Dept of Integrated Sexual Health from Cardiff Royal Infirmary.

A woman can use emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex, or if a method of contraception has failed.

There are two methods of emergency contraception:

  • the copper intrauterine device (IUD).
  • the emergency contraceptive pill (the morning-after pill)

Both of these methods are very effective at preventing pregnancy if they are used soon after unprotected sex.  The most effective way of minimising your chance of becoming pregnant in this situation is to have an “IUD” or intra-uterine device fitted. 

Copper intrauterine device (IUD)  

The copper intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, plastic and copper device that can be fitted into your  womb by a doctor or nurse within five days of having unprotected sex or sometimes even longer depending on the length of your normal menstrual cycle.

The IUD stops sperm from reaching an egg and fertilising it. It is the most effective method of emergency contraception and prevents up to 99% of pregnancies.

Most women can use the IUD for emergency contraception. It is particularly suitable if:

  • you cannot or do not want to take hormones
  • you are taking certain medication, such as epilepsy drugs
  • you want to use the IUD as an ongoing method of contraception

See the A-Z topic on the intrauterine device (IUD) for further information.

Emergency contraceptive pill

There are two types of emergency contraceptive pill:

  • Levonelle is the most commonly used. It can be taken up to three days (72 hours) after having unprotected sex, and is available free of charge on prescription or can be bought from your local pharmacy if you are over 16.
  • ellaOne is a newer type of emergency contraceptive pill that can be taken up to five days (120 hours) after having unprotected sex. It is only available on prescription and only recommended in women over the age of 18.

The effectiveness of the emergency contraceptive pill decreases over time. If it is taken within 24 hours of having unprotected sex, it prevents 95% of pregnancies.

Most women can use the emergency contraceptive pill, including women who are breastfeeding and those who cannot usually use hormonal contraception (such as the combined pill or contraceptive patch).

The emergency contraceptive pill should not be  used as a regular method of contraception.

For more information, see the A-Z topic on the emergency contraceptive pill.

How likely am I to become pregnant?

If 1000 women have sex without a condom and are not using contraception:

  • 80 will become pregnant if do not access any emergency contraception
  • 10 will become pregnant if Levonelle is used as Emergency contraception
  • 5  will become pregnant if ellaOne is used as Emergency contraception
  • Only 1 will become pregnant if the Emergency IUD is used

Had unprotected sex?

The IUD can be fitted at:

  • GP surgeries
  • contraception/sexual health clinics
  • some young persons’ clinics and Brook advisory centres

Acting quickly and using emergency contraception after unprotected sex will usually prevent a pregnancy. The emergency contraceptive pill is available free from:

  • your GP
  • any contraception/sexual health clinics (formerly known as family planning clinics) 
  • some pharmacies
  • any genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or sexual health clinic
  • any young persons' clinic or Brook Advisory Centre
  • some hospital accident and emergency (A&E) departments

 The emergency contraceptive pill can also be bought from pharmacies and some private clinics. It costs around £25.

Find sexual health services in your area.


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