health articles

Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception is treatment to prevent an unintended pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure.

Virtually Healthcare provides emergency contraception and comprehensive family planning, and sexual health care. Our family planning and healthcare services are easily accessible remotely or in person, with all appointments free of charge on the NHS.

What is emergency contraception?

The WHO defines emergency contraception as:

‘Emergency contraception refers to methods of contraception that can be used to prevent pregnancy after sexual intercourse. These are recommended for use within five days but are more effective the sooner they are used after the act of intercourse[1]

You should consider emergency contraception if you do not want pregnancy and have had unprotected sex. You should also seek advice if you are worried about contraceptive failure like a condom split, if you didn’t use the contraceptive correctly or have been sexually assaulted.


Emergency contraceptive care at Virtually Healthcare

Virtually Healthcare has a team of GPs and specialist family planning doctors that offer a comprehensive contraceptive service. Your doctor will discuss when you had unprotected sex, your health, and future pregnancy plans before prescribing emergency contraception.

The doctors are supportive and will offer treatment without judgement. They may also recommend sexual health screening and discuss your future contraceptive options.

The Virtually Healthcare difference

Virtually Healthcare is an innovative GP practice, providing high-quality healthcare in the comfort of your home. Virtually Healthcare fits with busy modern lives. You can access consultations conveniently and easily with virtual appointments available seven days a week.

The team includes more than 40 clinicians working together to investigate and treat disease and help you optimise your health and wellbeing. As well as highly-skilled GPs, the team includes experienced family planning and sexual health specialists, physiotherapists and practice nurses to offer a comprehensive primary care service.

During the pandemic, many patients have found it difficult to access healthcare. Virtually Healthcare provides rapid access video or telephone appointments, with same-day consultations available if you contact us before 3 pm. Our clinicians can provide professional assessment and advice, arrange investigations, prescribe treatment or arrange for a face-to-face review.

At Virtually Healthcare, we focus on you. Our clinicians take a holistic approach to care. Whether you want an easy, convenient way to get contraception or a discreet testing service for STIs, our dedicated team can provide expert advice and treatment.

How does emergency contraception work

There are two main methods of emergency contraception. These work in different ways:

  • Emergency contraceptive pills or ECPs: ECPs or the morning after pill are hormonal treatments.
  • Levonelle contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone. If it is taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, it prevents pregnancy by delaying or stopping your body from releasing an egg
  • ellaOne contains ulipristal acetate, which stops your natural progesterone from working correctly. This stops or slows the release of an egg if it’s taken within 120 hours or five days of sex.
  • IUD: The intrauterine device or copper coil is an effective method of emergency post-coital contraception. It prevents fertilisation and also stops a fertilised egg from implanting. If a coil is inserted up to five days following unprotected sex, it can prevent pregnancy[1]. The WHO describes the IUD as ‘the most effective form of emergency contraception available.’


How can I get emergency contraception?

Time is important when it comes to emergency contraception. It’s more effective if you get treatment at an early stage. You can get a same-day virtual appointment at Virtually Healthcare if you contact us before 3 pm. The doctor can arrange that a prescription be sent directly to your local pharmacy or organise a face-to-face appointment for coil insertion.

The morning after pill or ECP is also available in pharmacies without a prescription. If you have had unprotected sex or are worried about contraceptive failure, make an appointment or see your local pharmacist.

How effective is emergency contraception?

If emergency contraception is given promptly, it is very effective. Overall it can prevent up to 95% of pregnancies if given within five days of unprotected sex ( or three days for Levonelle).

The most effective type of emergency contraception is the copper coil or IUD. When a doctor inserts a coil within five days of intercourse (or within five days of the earliest time of ovulation), it is more than 99% effective.

Hot topics in contraceptive care

How do you take the morning after pill?

You should take the morning after pill as soon as possible after unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the more likely it is to be effective.

Take the tablet as instructed on the packet. You may get a headache, nausea and tummy ache; this is normal. However, if you vomit with two hours of taking the ECP, contact your doctor. You may need repeat treatment or IUD insertion.

Your next period may be early, late or at the expected time. You may notice that it’s more painful. See your GP or family planning doctor if the symptoms don’t settle, if you have severe abdominal pain, or if your period is seven days late and you are worried that you may be pregnant.

Family planning after using emergency contraception

If you have a coil inserted, it works as emergency contraception and prevents future pregnancies. However, ECPs only work as post-coital contraception. If you have unprotected sex after taking the ECP, you will need repeat treatment.

Your doctor can discuss all your contraceptive options. If you are already using contraception but had a failure due to a condom split or forgotten pill, you should continue to use your contraception.

  • After taking Levonelle, take your pill, apply a patch or put a ring in within 12 hours of taking the morning-after pill. Use additional contraception like condoms for seven days with the pill, patch, ring, implant or injection (nine days for the OCP Qlaira). If you use the mini pill, use extra contraception or avoid intercourse for two days.
  • After taking ellaOne, wait five days or more before taking your next oral contraceptive pill, applying a patch or inserting a ring. Use additional contraception, like condoms, during this time and for an extra seven days if you use the pill, patch, ring, implant or injection (nine days for the OCP Qlaira). If you use the mini pill, use extra contraception or avoid intercourse for two days.

Is emergency contraception like an abortion?

Although emergency contraception is given after intercourse, it is not a termination. Emergency contraception does not cause an abortion, affect a developing baby, or interrupt an established pregnancy.

The IUD works by affecting the sperm and egg to prevent fertilisation; it also prevents a fertilised egg from implanting in the womb.

The emergency contraceptive pill stops or delays ovulation, which prevents pregnancy.

Types of consultations we offer

We offer written, telephone and video consultations with a range of male and female clinicians from GPs, nurse practitioners, and primary care specialists such as physiotherapy.