There are two available single dose treatments for emergency contraception; Levonelle and EllaOne. They both contain synthetic hormones that act either by preventing the release of an egg for the ovaries, preventing sperm from fertilising an egg that has already been released or preventing a fertilised egg from embedding into the womb lining.
The morning-after pill should only be taken once in a menstrual cycle at most and for the rest of the cycle, you should use barrier contraception such as a condom, even in addition to your regular contraceptive pill. The emergency contraceptive pills do not provide any lasting contraceptive cover for the rest of your cycle. Levonelle and EllaOne should not be used as a regular form of contraception. They should be taken as soon as possible after the contraceptive accident, ideally within the first 24 hours.
The emergency contraceptive pill does not normally affect your period, however, it can make it earlier or later than expected. If your period is more than 7 days late or usually light or short, you should take a pregnancy test or see your GP to check for pregnancy.
Although they are generally well tolerated like all medicines emergency contraceptive pills can cause some side effects. The most common side effects include:
- Abdominal pain
- Irregular menstrual bleeding (spotting or heavy bleeding) before your next period is due
It is important to note that if you vomit or suffer from diarrhoea within 3 hours of taking your pill, it may not be fully absorbed. You should see your local pharmacist or GP for a repeat supply.
There are no identified medical conditions that would make Levonelle unsuitable for use. EllaOne should not be used by women who:
- May already be pregnant
- Are allergic to any of the components of the drug
- Have severe asthma that is not properly controlled by steroids
- Have hereditary problems with lactose metabolism
For those who do not want to take emergency hormonal contraception or those for whom it is not suitable, a copper intrauterine device (IUD) can be fitted within 120 hours (5 days) of the incident. It is 99.9% effective if fitted with this time period and can also be used as ongoing contraception.