Emergency contraception


What is it?
The most commonly available emergency contraceptive pill now contains just one hormone: progesterone. It works by either stopping the egg from being released from the ovaries, or preventing sperm from fertilising the egg. It may also stop a fertilised egg from attaching itself to the lining of the womb. This means it will prevent a pregnancy. It will not work if you are already pregnant.

Oral emergency contraception can be taken up to 72 hours after having unprotected intercourse, however it is more effective if taken within 24 hours.

Does it work?
Progestogen only contraceptive pills are approximately 98% effective in preventing pregnancy.
The pills are less likely to work if:

  • You have unprotected sex after you take them.
  • You vomit within 2 hours of taking the pills.
  • You have severe diarrhoea within 2 hours of taking the pills.

What about side effects?
The progestogen only emergency contraceptive pill is generally well tolerated. Possible side effects include nausea (which is less likely if it is taken after a light meal), breast tenderness or headaches. The next menstrual period may come a little earlier or later than expected, however, if you do not have a period within 3 weeks you must seek medical advice.

If the progestogen only emergency contraceptive pill fails there is a possible increased risk of ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy within the tubes leading from the ovary to the womb). If you experience any pain or unexpected bleeding after taking the emergency contraception you need to seek immediate advice.

Is it right for me?
Emergency contraceptive pills are not suitable if:

  • It is more than 72 hours since unprotected sexual intercourse.
  • Your period is overdue.
  • You have other unprotected sex earlier in your menstrual cycle.

If any of these apply to you please feel free to discuss your situation with any of the doctors or nurses at the Medical Centre or the University Nursing Service.

How do I get emergency hormonal contraception?
There are several options open to you:

  • THE UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTRE – Consultation with a doctor or nurse at the UMC- no appointment is necessary – simply ring on 01227 469333 and we can give you a time to be seen by the nurse or doctor that day (see opening times).  We will discuss whether emergency contraception is suitable for you and can issue you the pills at no charge. The consultation, as with all other consultations with your doctor or nurse, is completely confidential.
  • UNIVERSITY NURSING SERVICE: If you are a student at the University of Kent – you can also obtain emergency contraception from the University Nursing Service in Room EG3 in Keynes College, again via consultation with a nurse, emergency contraception can be issued free of charge.
  • PHARMACY:  If you are not a student or would like to obtain emergency contraception elsewhere – you can access emergency hormonal contraception via a pharmacy. Several local pharmacies are authorised to provide Levonelle 2 emergency hormonal contraception free of charge to women under 20 years of age as part of the Kent Teenage Pregnancy strategy.

If  the University Medical Centre & Pharmacy are closed you can call the out of hours emergency line on 111

IUD (the coil) as Post-Coital Contraception
An IUD can be fitted up to 5 days after unprotected sex, or up to 5 days after the earliest time you could have released an egg (Eg Day 19 of a 28 day cycle). It stops an egg being fertilised or implanting in the womb. It is almost 100% effective and can then be used as ongoing contraception if you like.

An IUD is suitable IF:

  • You are too late to take emergency pills (ie over 72hrs after unprotected sex)
  • Do not want or cannot take progestogen
  • Want the most effective method of emergency contraception
  • Want to use the IUD as continuing contraception.

You need to see a doctor to have this fitted. If you have been at risk of sexually transmitted infections then you may need to be screened for these when the IUD is fitted, and antibiotics may be given to prevent the risk of pelvic infection. If you don’t want to use the IUD as your continuing method of contraception, it can be removed as soon as you know you are not pregnant (usually during your next period).

If you need emergency contraception it may be worthwhile reviewing your normal method of birth control, as other methods are more effective.