Emergency Contraception

What is it and how does it work?

Emergency contraception can be very effective, but it’s not as effective as using other methods of contraception regularly.

If you’ve had unprotected sex (sex without using contraception) or think your contraception might have failed, you can use emergency contraception. There are different types of emergency contraception, including:

  • Emergency intrauterine device (IUD)
  • Emergency contraceptive pill with the active ingredient ulipristal acetate (UPA)
    EllaOne is currently the only brand available in the UK
  • Emergency contraceptive pill with the hormone levonorgestrel.

The emergency IUD is the most effective emergency contraception. An emergency contraceptive pill needs to be taken as soon as possible after sex to have the best chance of working.


Depending on the method used, it can be up to 85-99% effective. 

Who can have it?

Women of child bearing age depending on consultation.


You can take the same type of emergency pill more than once in any menstrual cycle if you need to, but it may not be possible to take a different type of pill in the same cycle.

You don’t need to use emergency contraception for the first 21 days after giving birth.

You can continue to use the IUD as your regular contraceptive method if you want to. It will be highly effective at preventing pregnancy.


The emergency contraceptive pill won’t continue to protect you from pregnancy. If you have unprotected sex again you’re at risk of pregnancy. Seek advice – you may need emergency contraception again. 

Risks/Side effects

There are no serious short or long-term side effects.

Some people may feel sick or may get headaches or a painful period after taking an Emernecy Contraceptive Pill. A very small number will vomit.  

Most side effects go away within a few days. It may alter your next period.

Your period is likely to come on time or a few days early or late. Sometimes it can be a week late, and sometimes even later.If you don’t have a period within about a week of the expected time, then take a pregnancy test.

With an Emergency IUD,  Some people may get a period-type pain and bleeding for a few days after the fitting. Pain relief can help. There’s a very small chance of getting an infection during the first 20 days after it’s fitted.

If you already have an infection you may be given antibiotics. It’s not common but the IUD can be pushed out or it can move. There’s a very small risk that it might perforate (go through) your uterus (womb) when fitted.

Further guidance

Emergency Contraception