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Emergency Contraception

THE MORNING AFTER PILL

Support, guidance and medication for women seeking emergency contraceptive treatment

Like condoms and other forms of contraception, the morning after pill is an effective method for reducing the risk of pregnancy as a result of sexual intercourse.

There are two kinds of emergency contraception. The first of these is the morning after pill, otherwise known as the emergency contraceptive pill (Levonelle or ellaOne). The other is the intrauterine device (IUD or coil).

DID YOU KNOW?

You are not alone in considering emergency contraception. Recent figures suggest that as many as one in five UK women between 18 and 35 take the morning after pill at least once a year.

WHAT DOES THE MORNING AFTER PILL DO?

The morning after pill is a form of emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) taken to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. It is an emergency contraception which is commonly taken if contraception wasn’t used during sexual intercourse, or if the method of contraception failed (e.g. a split condom). Guidelines state that the morning after pill should be taken as quickly as possible after having unprotected sex for it to be most effective.

While the morning after pill is an effective way of preventing pregnancy it should only be taken as an emergency rather than a regular contraceptive method. It is also important to note that neither the morning after pill or an IUD will help to prevent sexually transmitted diseases or infections.

WHEN TO TAKE THE MORNING AFTER PILL

The earlier the morning after pill is taken after intercourse, the more effective it is when it comes to preventing pregnancy. Different forms of the emergency contraceptive pill can be taken for different lengths of time after sex. For example, Levonelle must be taken within 72 hours (3 days) of sex in order to prevent pregnancy. It does not interfere with your regular method of contraception. However, the longer you wait the less effective the pill becomes. Alternatively, elleOne can be taken up to 120 hours after sex (5 days) to prevent pregnancy.

MORNING AFTER PILL EFFECTIVENESS

The morning after pill is an effective post-coital method of protection against pregnancy, especially if taken within 12 hours after intercourse has taken place. Both Levonelle and ellaOne are proven to be effective in significantly reducing the risk of pregnancy from unprotected or not-fully protected sex.

Levonelle is known to be most effective when taken within 12 hours of sexual intercourse. Studies have found that it can prevent up to 95% of pregnancies when taken within 24 hours. ellaOne can be used up to 5 days after sex and, unlike Levonelle, it has a 95% chance of success throughout the 5-day window.

SIDE EFFECTS OF THE MORNING AFTER PILL

Contrary to common misconception, there are very rarely serious or long-term side effects relating to the morning after pill. However, like all medication it carries a small risk of mild side effects that usually resolve themselves on their own in a short space of time.

These side effects can include:

  • Stomach ache
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Changes to your next period – it may be earlier, later or more painful than usual
  • Vomiting. You should seek medical attention if you are sick within 2–3 hours of taken the morning after pill.

You should also seek medical attention if:

  • Your next period is more than 7 days late
  • You think you may be pregnant
  • Your period is shorter or considerably lighter than usual
  • You have a sudden sense of pain in your lower tummy. This could be a sign of an extremely rare condition known as ectopic pregnancy, when a fertilised egg may have implanted outside the womb.

WHERE CAN I GET THE MORNING AFTER PILL?

Some women worry about how to obtain the morning after pill, but in reality there are many different ways to access emergency contraception.

People often get confused about the nature of the morning after pill. The morning after pill is not designed as a medication to terminate pregnancies nor does it affect the chance of a woman conceiving in the future. Speaking to a qualified pharmacist is often the best way to get the right information and to fully understand the nature of this medication.

 Daman Bhamra, Express Pharmacy

Emergency contraception can be obtained in person at contraception clinics, sexual health clinics, NHS walk-in centres, pharmacies, and certain GPs, young people’s clinics and accident and emergency departments (A&E).

You can also order the morning after pill online from trusted sources like Express Pharmacy, if you are aged 16 or older. This is a good way to access the medication discreetly without having to worry about travelling to a clinic or doctor’s surgery. It also allows you to access the medication in advance if you know you will need it in the near future, such as if you are going on holiday.

MORNING AFTER PILL BREASTFEEDING

The morning after pill is considered compatible with breastfeeding, so it can be used by women who are currently nursing. Combination morning after pills contain both oestrogen and progestin. Higher levels of oestrogen in particular have been linked to a lower milk supply in nursing new mothers. As consequence of this, there may be a slight drop in milk supply for a few days after taking the morning after pill. However, milk supply should rebound within a matter of days.

DIFFERENT MORNING AFTER PILLS: WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR ME?

If you are considering taking emergency contraception in the form of an oral pill, there are two main options to choose from. As discussed briefly earlier, these are Levonelle and ellaOne. Both of these options are considered highly effective post-coital contraceptive measures for the prevention of pregnancy.

LEVONELLE

Levonelle is the trade name of the treatment levonorgestrel, which was first licensed for use in the UK in 2004. It has been developed as an effective emergency contraceptive pill which can be taken orally within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It becomes less effective the longer you wait to take it after intercourse. It works by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg and preventing sperm from fertilising any egg which may have been released.

ELLAONE

ellaOne is the trade name of the treatment ulipristal acetate; a prescription only medication which was launched in the UK and licensed for use throughout Europe. It comes in the form of a single oral tablet that can be taken up to 120 hours after sex as a means of inhibiting or delaying ovulation, therefore preventing pregnancy. It can be taken with or without food.

HOW MUCH IS THE MORNING AFTER PILL?

The cost of emergency contraception varies depending on the medication you choose. For up to date pricing on the prescription medications stocked here at Express Pharmacy, visit the ellaOne or Levonelle pages.

SHOULD I CONSIDER AN IUD?

An IUD (intrauterine device) is an alternative form of emergency contraception. It is a small, T-shaped plastic and copper device which is inserted directly into the womb by a doctor or nurse. The release of copper inhibits the processes that lead to pregnancy and can protect you for between 5 and 10 years. As such, the IUD is a long-term method of contraception with a 99% effectiveness rate. However, it can increase the flow, length and severity of your period for several months after insertion, and it does not protect against STIs.


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