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Emergency Contraception - Rightangled

What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency contraception, often referred to as the "morning-after pill," is a time-sensitive method of preventing unintended pregnancies following unprotected or inadequately protected intercourse. It is designed to be used as a backup option when regular contraception methods fail or are not used. Emergency contraception is not meant to replace regular contraception; rather, it offers a means to reduce the risk of pregnancy in situations such as condom breakage, missed birth control pills, or sexual assault. Understanding the available methods, their effectiveness, and the importance of timely use is crucial for making informed decisions about reproductive health.

Methods of Emergency Contraception

Two primary methods of emergency contraception are available:

- Levonorgestrel Emergency Contraceptive Pill: Commonly known as the "morning-after pill," this method contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic hormone. It works by preventing or delaying ovulation, thereby reducing the chances of fertilization. It is most effective when taken as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse, ideally within 72 hours, but can be used up to 120 hours (5 days) after.

- Ulipristal Acetate Emergency Contraceptive Pill: This newer option also works by inhibiting ovulation. It can be taken within 120 hours after unprotected intercourse.

Who Should Use Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception is intended for individuals who have had unprotected or inadequately protected intercourse and want to reduce the risk of pregnancy. It is not intended for regular use and should not replace ongoing contraception methods. It is suitable for various situations, including:
- Condom breakage or slippage
- Missed birth control pills
- Expired or damaged contraception methods
- Sexual assault or coerced intercourse
- Inconsistent use of contraception


Emergency contraception itself is a treatment for reducing the risk of unintended pregnancy. It is a one-time, high-dose option to prevent pregnancy following a specific instance of unprotected intercourse. It is not intended to be a regular form of birth control, as it is less effective than ongoing methods. For ongoing contraception needs, individuals should consider regular methods such as oral contraceptives, IUDs, or barrier methods.

Why Emergency Contraception Is Important

Emergency contraception serves as an important option for preventing unintended pregnancies and offering peace of mind in critical situations. Its significance lies in:

Timely Action: Emergency contraception provides a short window of opportunity to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse, making timely use crucial.

Reduced Risk of Unintended Pregnancy: By taking emergency contraception, individuals can significantly reduce the risk of pregnancy following instances of contraceptive failure or unprotected sex.

Preventing Emotional Distress: Unintended pregnancies can lead to emotional distress and decision-making challenges. Emergency contraception can help alleviate these concerns.

Empowerment: Access to emergency contraception empowers individuals to take control of their reproductive health and make informed choices about when to start or expand their families.

Protection After Sexual Assault: For survivors of sexual assault, emergency contraception offers a means to reduce the risk of pregnancy resulting from non-consensual intercourse.
In conclusion, emergency contraception is a time-sensitive option for preventing unintended pregnancies after unprotected or inadequately protected intercourse. By understanding the available methods, their effectiveness, and the importance of timely use, individuals can make informed decisions about their reproductive health and take steps to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy in critical situations. It's essential to consult a healthcare provider or a pharmacist to discuss the best option based on individual circumstances and receive guidance on using emergency contraception effectively.

Further info

Read more about Emergency Contraception on NHS website, following the link below:

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How soon after unprotected sex should I take emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception is most effective when taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. Depending on the type of emergency contraceptive pill, it should be taken within 72 hours (levonorgestrel) or up to 120 hours (ulipristal acetate) after the incident. If you're considering the copper IUD, it can be inserted within five days of unprotected intercourse. The sooner you take or use emergency contraception, the higher the likelihood of preventing pregnancy.

Can emergency contraception cause an abortion?

No, emergency contraception does not cause an abortion. It works primarily by preventing or delaying ovulation, thus reducing the chances of fertilization. If fertilization has already occurred, emergency contraception may also affect the uterine lining, making it less conducive to implantation. It does not terminate an established pregnancy. If you suspect you are pregnant or have concerns, it's important to consult a healthcare provider.

Can I use emergency contraception multiple times in a month?

While emergency contraception is safe and effective for occasional use, it should not be relied upon as a regular form of contraception. Repeated use within a short period can disrupt your menstrual cycle and may not provide the same level of effectiveness as regular contraceptive methods. If you find yourself frequently needing emergency contraception, it's advisable to discuss more reliable contraception options with a healthcare provider.
There are some occasional instances where the egg might already have been released, and this is why the morning after pill is not 100% effective.

s emergency contraception available without a prescription?

Yes, some emergency contraception options are available without a prescription, while others require a prescription from a healthcare provider. Levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive pills are available over-the-counter at pharmacies. Ulipristal acetate emergency contraceptive pills and copper IUD insertion usually require a prescription. It's important to consult a healthcare provider for guidance on which option is best for your situation.

Medically reviewed & approved

This page was medically reviewed by Dr Sohaib Imtiaz (clinical lead) |

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