The facts about the morning after pill

How effective is emergency contraception?


I don’t think we can ever say that there is an answer to unprotected sex in the sense that if we are to protect against sexually transmitted infections, we should always use a condom during sexual intercourse. This is particularly important when having sex with a new partner or multiple partners.

However, sex isn’t always something we plan, it can very easily happen in the heat of the moment when passion and hormones can just take over. Even if the act is planned and you have used a condom, there are occasions when the condom splits or falls off and so you are still at risk of falling pregnant.  It is here that the morning after pill comes in.

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Levonelle from £12.05
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ellaOne from £23.65
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Types of morning after pill

There are two types of morning after pill:

  • Levonelle (levonorgestrel) can be taken up to 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex but it is more effective if it is taken within the first 12 hours

  • EllaOne (ulipristal acetate) which can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex

  • Birth control pills that contain pregesterone and oestrogen can also be used as emergency contraception if you take them at a higher dose within 3 - 5 days of unprotected sex. This does work but is less effective than other forms of emergency contraception


How does the morning after pill work?


The active ingredient in Levonelle is Levonorgestrel which is a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone which we produce in our ovaries. It is believed that  it will stop or delay the production of an egg when we ovulate


The active ingredient in EllaOne is ulipristal acetate. This Substance blocks the progesterone from working as it normally would. It also works by stopping or delaying the release of an egg.


How effective is the morning after pill?

The morning after pill is quite effective at preventing pregnancy and the earlier it is taken the more effective it will be. It will not prevent pregnancy from any intercourse that takes place after taking the morning after pill.

The morning after pill is not as effective as using regular contraception.

According to research carried out by the World Health Organisation, Levonorgestrel  worked with the following levels of efficacy:

  • If taken within 24 hours it is 95% effective 
  • If taken within 48 hours it is 85% effective
  • If taken within 72 hours it is 58% effective

EllaOne shows 95% effectiveness over the first 24 hours and continues at this level for up to 5 days.


Are there any side effects from the morning after pill?

There are a number of side effects associated with the morning pill which typically last a few days. They are listed below:

  • Nausea or vomiting. Please note that if you have any vomiting, as is the case with the contraceptive pill, this will reduce the effect of the morning after pill. If this happens it is important that you speak to your GP about repeating the dose.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Breast tenderness.
  • Bleeding between periods or heavier menstrual bleeding.
  • Lower abdominal pain or cramps

In addition, your next period may appear early and be more painful than usual.


Are there any people unable to use the morning after pill?

Even if you are intolerant to hormonal contraception such as the contraceptive patch, pill or implant, the morning after pill is safe to use. It can also be given to girls under 16 years of age.

If however you are allergic to any of the ingredients in the morning after pill, have serious asthma or are taking any drugs that may interact with it it is advisable not to use this form of emergency contraception. Medication that may interact include the following:

  • St John’s Wort (a herbal medicine)
  • Some medication designed to treat epilepsy, HIV or tuberculosis
  • Some medication is taken to reduce stomach acid
  • Some antibiotics, for example, rifampicin and rifabutin

EllaOne cannot be taken as the morning after pill if any of these medications are being taken as it wouldn’t work. However, Levonelle could be considered although the dose given would need to be raised

Alternative forms of emergency contraception

Fitting the Emergency Coil (IUD) is 99% effective if fitted within 5 days, making it more effective than the morning after pill. However, this needs to be fitted by a health professional either at your GP’s surgery or a family planning clinic.

In addition, it can be considered as a long term form of contraception as it can remain in place for 5 - 10 years.

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