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Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception is used to try to stop pregnancy when there has been unprotected sex (no contraception used) or a contraceptive failure (burst condom, missed pills). It is sometimes known as the “morning after pill”. Emergency contraception is provided by all of our clinics, and is free.

Your doctor or nurse can advise you on which is the best type of emergency contraception for you.

You may be offered a copper intrauterine device (IUD, also known as a copper coil) or a tablet, depending on your situation and your preferences.

It is best to get emergency contraception as soon as possible, so you may prefer to get emergency contraception from:

  • Your GP
  • An NHS walk-in centre
  • A pharmacy – some offer this free if you are under 25
    • You can find out your nearest pharmacies that provide emergency contraception by:
      • Texting ‘Pharmacy emergency contraception [and your post code]’ to 80011
    • You will get a text response with the 3 nearest pharmacies with their names, addresses, telephone numbers and distance from the post code you’ve entered.
    • Standard text message rates from your provider may apply when using this service.

  • The copper coil (IUD)

    The copper coil (IUD) is the most effective method of emergency contraception, with a failure rate of less than 1%.

    It is a small rubber and copper device that is fitted into the uterus.  It can be fitted up to 120 hours after sex (5 days), and up to 5 days after the earliest time you produce an egg. The devices that are used are able to be used for contraception for either 5 or 10 years, so it can be kept for ongoing contraception, but you don’t have to.

    Advantages

    • Highly effective as emergency contraception and for ongoing contraception
    • Non-hormonal
    • Suitable for most people (you do not need to have had a baby, or be a certain age for this option)

    Disadvantages

    • Short procedure to have fitted which can be uncomfortable
    • May make periods heavier and longer
    • Does not protect against STIs

    Copper IUDs cannot be fitted in all of Unity’s clinics. However, we can refer you into a suitable appointment if it is not provided initially.

    If you are referred for a copper IUD, you should be offered an oral tablet in case you change your mind or it is not possible to fit the device.

  • Ulipristal acetate (EllaOne®)

    Ulipristal acetate (EllaOne) is a tablet that you swallow that you can take for emergency contraception. It is effective up to 120 hours (5 days) after sex, but is best to take it as soon as possible.

    It is less effective than the copper IUD in preventing pregnancy. It works by delaying the release of the egg (ovulation) to allow sperm to disappear from the reproductive tract. It may be recommended if you are particularly close to releasing an egg (ovulation) or had sex more than 72 hours (3 days) ago.

    Advantages

    • Easy to take – tablet that you swallow
    • More effective if fertile part of cycle (close to ovulation) than Levonorgestrel pill
    • Can be used for up to 120 hours (5 days) after sex
    • Few side effects

    Disadvantages

    • Less effective than a copper IUD
    • May interfere with future contraception – need to delay starting hormonal contraception by 5 days
    • Should avoid breast feeding for 7 days after taking this tablet
    • Can interact with other medications
    • Not suitable for women with severe asthma, those taking glucocorticoids or hereditary lactose metabolism problems

    It is best to get emergency contraception as soon as possible, so you may prefer to get this type of emergency contraception from:

    • Your GP
    • A pharmacy – some offer this free if you are under 25 (see instructions above to find your nearest pharmacy)
    • An NHS walk-in centre
  • Levonorgestrel (Levonelle®)

    Levonorgestrel (Levonelle®) is a tablet that you swallow that you can take for emergency contraception. It is effective for up to 96 hours (4 days) after sex, but is best to take as soon as possible.

    It is less effective than the copper IUD in preventing pregnancy. It works by delaying the release of the egg (ovulation) to allow sperm to disappear from the reproductive tract. It is less good at this the closer you are to releasing the egg (ovulation).

    Advantages

    • Easy to take – tablet that you swallow
    • Can be used up to 96 hours (4 days) after sex
    • Few side effects
    • Can start hormonal contraception immediately after taking

    Disadvantages

    • Less effective than a copper IUD
    • Less effective in days leading up to releasing an egg (ovulation)
    • Need to alter dose if on certain medication or if your weight is over 70kg (BMI >26)

    It is best to get emergency contraception as soon as possible, so you may prefer to get this type of emergency contraception from:

    • Your GP
    • A pharmacy – some offer this free if you are under 25 (see instructions above to find your nearest pharmacy)
    • An NHS walk-in centre

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