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Emergency Contraception

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception means contraception used soon after unprotected sex or if you think your regular method has let you down. 

Different types of emergency contraception work in different ways and the most reliable method is a copper coil (IUD).

It's more effective than the emergency pill at preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex and can also be left in to provide ongoing contraception.

Oral (tablet) emergency contraception (Levonelle, Ella One) works to prevent conception (the meeting of an egg and sperm) by causing a delay in ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary) by several days so that you ovulate later in the cycle than usual.  Because of this it will only work if taken before ovulation.  It is safe to take at any point in the cycle but will do nothing if ovulation has already taken place. 

A copper coil (IUD) may also prevent conception in some cases as it is toxic to sperm and eggs, but because it also acts to prevent a fertilised egg implanting in the womb and becoming a pregnancy, it will work after ovulation.  It can be used up to 5 days after earliest expected date of ovulation (up to 9 days before the next period is due). Less than 1% of women who use the IUD (copper coil) get pregnant.

Emergency Contraception

Levonelle® (or Levonorgestrel Emergency Hormonal Contraception)
Taken within 3 days (72 hours of unprotected sex)

ellaOne® (or Ulipristal Acetate Emergency Hormonal Contraception)
Taken within 5 days (120 hours of unprotected sex)

Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD)

An IUD used to be called 'coil'. A copper coil is a small “T” shaped plastic and copper device that is put into the womb up to five days (120 hours) after the first unprotected sex within your cycle or within five days of the earliest time you could have released an egg.

Emergency contraception will not protect you from sexually transmitted infections.  Emergency contraception does not cause an abortion, it simply helps prevent a pregnancy from happening.

Oral methods do not prevent pregnancy if you have further unprotected sex.  Please read through our information on contraception. If you would like to find out more you can attend any Sandyford Clinic or your GP.

How do I get emergency contraception?

You can get advice and free emergency contraception pills from:

  • Pharmacies (chemist shops) across Greater Glasgow and Clyde for females aged 13 years plus who present within 72 hours of unprotected sex
    It is best to take this as soon as possible.
    Some chemists are open early, late, weekends and bank holidays. 
    You can find your nearest pharmacy by searching on NHS 24 or by contacting NHS 24 on 111.
  • Any General Practice or Sandyford Clinics
  • Some hospital accident and emergency departments
  • Most minor injury units

You can also buy emergency contraception from most pharmacies (chemist shops) if you are a female aged over 16 years.

What will they ask?

The healthcare professional will ask questions about your health, any medications including herbal supplements you take and any family health problems. They will assess what methods are suitable for you.

Copper intrauterine devices (IUD) can only be fitted by nurses or doctors. If this is your preferred method, you should contact your GP (if they offer this service) or a Sandyford Clinic as soon as possible. If there is a delay in having this fitted e.g. over the weekend, you should take an oral method if suitable. This will not prevent you having an IUD fitted. 

Some services are unable to provide ongoing contraception. Please come and see us at Sandyford or your GP about this as soon as possible.

How do I know if it has worked?

It is unlikely that you will be pregnant, but do a pregnancy test to make sure you are not pregnant if:

a) You feel pregnant

b) You have not had a normal period within three weeks of taking emergency contraception

c) You do not have a bleed when you have the seven-day break from using the combined pill, contraceptive patch or the contraceptive vaginal ring.

A pregnancy test will be accurate if the test is done three weeks after the last time you had unprotected sex.