Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception is designed to prevent pregnancy when your normal methods of birth control have failed. For example; if you forget to take the pill , or if a condom splits, or if for some reason you weren’t able to use any type of contraception.

There are two types of emergency contraception available:

  • Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC) sometimes also called ‘the morning after pill’.
  • Intrauterine device (IUD) sometimes called ‘the coil’.

It’s really important to remember that if you have had unprotected sex, then you may also have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). This can sound alarming but they are very common and often have no signs (symptoms). You can visit  your GP or  local pharmacy for EHC, most of them will also offer postal chlamydia testing which is free of charge for under 25s. You can also visit us for a chat about your sexual health, advice on contraception and whether you might need a test for STIs.

How effective is it?

How effective is it?

The sooner you use emergency contraception, the more effective it is.

There are two types of EHC pill:

Levonelle, is only licensed within 72 hours (3 days) of having unprotected sex, although it may work up to 96 hours. Be careful though, it gets less effective as time passes.

Ulipristal acetate (UPA or EllaOne), is also a ‘morning after pill’ which is licensed up to 120 hours (5 days) after having unprotected sex, however, it is also most likely to work if taken as soon as possible.

Both pills work by stopping you producing an egg (ovulation). If you have already produced an egg they are unlikely to work.

There are also certain conditions that will make the ‘morning after pill’ less effective. If you throw up (vomit) within 3 hours of taking the pill then the hormones won’t have been absorbed into your body. If you are taking other medication then it can also reduce the effectiveness of the morning after pill.

Intrauterine device (IUD) is a small copper and plastic device that is inserted into your uterus (womb) by a doctor or a nurse. The IUD can be inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex and sometimes even later than that depending on when your last period was. It is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. You can also choose to leave the IUD in as a continuing method of birth control.

Who can use it?

Who can use it?

Most women can use the ‘morning after pill’ for emergency contraception, even if they can’t use hormonal birth control on a regular basis. It is suitable for women of any age including girls under 16.

Most women can use the IUD or copper coil for emergency contraception.

Side effects

Side effects

Long term side effects of any of these forms of emergency contraception are rare. However you may experience some short term discomfort.

Side effects of the ‘morning after pill’ may include; headaches, stomach ache, feeling sick or changes to your next period – it could be earlier, later, lighter or heavier.

Side effects of the IUD copper coil may include; temporary pain or discomfort where the coil has been placed and longer, heavier periods if you choose to keep it as a form of birth control.

Where can I get it?

Where can I get it?

You can get all forms of emergency contraception from any Devon Sexual Health clinic , we can also arrange testing for STIs at the same time.

You can also get emergency hormonal contraceptive pills (the morning after pill) from most pharmacies and from your GP. If you have had unprotected sex then it’s important that you take the ‘morning after pill’ as soon as possible afterwards.

EHC is available free from GPs and also from some pharmacies if you are 13-24. You can find your nearest pharmacy or GP here.

In addition, EHC can be bought from a pharmacy over the counter or online, although the cheapest medication may not always be the best option.

If you have been raped or sexually abused you can get advice, support, emergency contraception and STI testing at a Devon & Cornwall SARC .

Which type?

Which type?


  • Best taken within 3 days
  • Available at pharmacies and clinics and GPs
  • Can be 85-95% effective
  • May make you feel sick or cause headaches

UPA (EllaOne)

  • Must be taken within 5 days
  • Available at pharmacies and clinics and GPs
  • Can be 95% effective
  • May make you feel sick or cause headaches

IUD Copper Coil

  • Must be fitted within 5 days
  • Available at clinics
  • Can be 99% effective
  • May cause some short term soreness where fitted
How can we help you?

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Accessing our service during the COVID pandemic

We have implemented a telephone triage system for all of our clinics. This system will be in place for the duration of the pandemic. Our central telephone number is 0300 303 3989.

We have updated information on the provision of routine contraception during this pandemic here.

Self-requested STI testing by post is available for those aged under 25- more info

We are now running an under 18’s sit and wait clinic at Exeter, Torquay, and Barnstaple for more information click here

Despite any changes made to COVID risk measures outside of NHS premises our staff, patients and visitors will be expected to continue to follow social distancing rules when visiting our clinics, including wearing a face covering. If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been requested to self-isolate please do not attend the clinic.

If you are struggling to access sexual health services, alternatives may be available:

  • Emergency Contraception - from a local pharmacy - more info
  • Contraceptive pills and LARC procedures - obtained from your GP
  • HIV PEPSE - available via A+E departments - more info
  • Condoms by post (for gay and bisexual men only) - more info