All about emergency contraception

All about emergency contraception

What is it?

Emergency contraception can be used to stop you getting pregnant if contraception has failed or not been used. It is only meant for when something has gone wrong and is not something you should use regularly.

EHC is a pill that must be taken within 72 hours (three days) of unprotected sex. It is available free from pharmacies displaying the EHC logo. You can also get EHC from Contraception Services and doctors.

EHC is:

  • 95% effective within 24 hours of unprotected sex
  • 85% between 25-48 hours
  • 58% if used between 49 and 72 hours.

That's why you need to get EHC as soon as possible!

If it is already longer than 72hours (3days) or you can't take EHC for medical reasons, a specially trained doctor can fit an IUD up to 5 days after unprotected sex. The IUD or inter-uterine device is a form of contraception. It is available from Contraception Services and some doctors.

What will happen at the pharmacy?

All pharmacies displaying the EHC logo will be able to give you EHC Free. They won't tell anyone that you have used the service even if you are under 16 and they won't judge you.

Before you can be given EHC you will have to answer a few questions to see if it's ok for you to take. They will take you to a quiet area to talk to you, where no one else can hear what you are discussing. This is entirely confidential. They will not tell anyone that you have used the service even if you are under 16. If you are worried about confidentiality you can ask them to explain their policy to you. It's fine for you to take a friend or your partner for support but no one else can get EHC on your behalf because they give you the tablet and a glass of water for you to take it then and there..

You may be asked:

  • How long ago you had unprotected sex
  • When you had your last period
  • How often you usually have a period (your menstrual cycle)
  • If this is the first time since your last period you had unprotected sex
  • Some questions on your medical history
  • What medication you are taking

You might not know all the answers so just tell the pharmacist as much as you can.

The pharmacist will be able to tell you about contraception clinics so that you can sort your contraception out and avoid future slip-ups. You can also find out about STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) testing. All of the pharmacies in Redbridge offer free condoms and chlamydia screening on site.

Does EHC have any side effects?

Most women do not experience any side effects at all when they take EHC.

Rarely some women feel sick for a short while after taking EHC or have a headache. Sometimes you may feel like your period is coming on: breast tenderness, stomach pains, feeling tired. These symptoms are usually minor and should get better after a few days.


If you are sick within 3 hours of taking EHC, you need to go back to your pharmacist, doctor or Contraception Service for another packet and take the tablet again. This is because it won't have had time to work. If you are sick more than three hours after you take the tablet, you do not need to take EHC again.

Changes to periods

Most women will have their period at the usual time, but your period can also come earlier or later than usual. You might also have some irregular bleeding or spotting until your next period.

How do I know if EHC has worked?

You will know that EHC has worked when you have your next period and it seems like a normal period.

If your period is more than 5 days late

A few women who take EHC will have their period more than 5 days late. If this happens to you and you are worried it may be a good idea to take a pregnancy test.