If you’ve had unprotected sex and you’re worried about getting pregnant, you might consider using emergency contraception. Levonorgestrel is one of the types of emergency contraception available - but what is it and how does it work?
In this article, we take a closer look at levonorgestrel to help you decide if this type of morning after pill is right for you. Keep reading to find out more, including how effective levonorgestrel is and how to take it.
What is levonorgestrel?
Levonorgestrel is an emergency contraceptive used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if another method of birth control has failed. This could be forgetting to take your regular method of contraception, such as the pill, or if a condom has split.
Also referred to as a type of morning after pill, levonorgestrel comes in tablet form and must be taken by mouth. It is most effective if it is taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex and within three days (72 hours).
It’s important to note that levonorgestrel should not be used as a regular method of contraception. There are other options available if you are looking for a more long-term treatment to prevent pregnancy - including the Lovima mini pill. Lovima is a progestogen-only contraceptive pill that is up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy when taken correctly. Containing the active ingredient desogestrel, Lovima works to prevent pregnancy by stopping an egg from being released, otherwise known as ovulation. It also thickens the cervical mucus, which makes it more difficult for sperm to travel to the uterus.
It’s worth noting that levonorgestrel does not offer protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If left untreated, STIs can lead to more serious health complications, including infertility. So, if you’ve had unprotected sex and you’re worried you may have an STI, you should get tested as soon as possible. You can find out more by visiting a sexual health clinic, a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, or your GP surgery.
To avoid contracting STIs in the future, you may want to consider regularly using condoms. Male and female condoms are the only type of contraceptive that are effective in helping to prevent pregnancy and STIs.
Does levonorgestrel prevent implantation?
Levonorgestrel does not prevent implantation, but instead helps prevent ovulation. Levonorgestrel is a synthetic version of the naturally occurring hormone progesterone which is produced by the ovaries. Levonorgestrel is thought to work by stopping or delaying ovulation - the release of an egg.
How effective is levonorgestrel?
When taken as instructed, levonorgestrel is up to 99% effective in preventing pregnancy when taken within 24 hours. However, the efficacy of levonorgestrel decreases with time and remains up to 84% effective when taken within 72 hours. This means it should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse.
Preferably, levonorgestrel should be taken within 12 hours of unprotected sex, but it can be taken up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse.
The efficacy of levonorgestrel can be affected in other ways too. For example, vomiting soon after taking levonorgestrel can reduce its effectiveness.
If you vomit within three hours of taking levonorgestrel, you should speak to your pharmacist, GP or family planning clinic as soon as possible as the morning after pill may not be as effective in preventing pregnancy. In this instance, you may be advised to take another morning after pill or have an intrauterine device (IUD) fitted.
Levonorgestrel does not interfere with your regular method of birth control.
Can I get pregnant after taking levonorgestrel?
While levonorgestrel can be effective in preventing pregnancy after having unprotected sex, it will not prevent pregnancy if you have unprotected sex again after taking this type of emergency contraceptive. If you take levonorgestrel then have unprotected sex, you may need emergency contraception again.
If you want to have sex after taking levonorgestrel, you will need to use a barrier method of contraception, such as condoms, diaphragm or cap, before your next menstrual cycle starts. You could start using the Lovima mini pill or other contraceptive pills after taking levonorgestrel. You can use Lovima immediately, but you should also use a barrier method of contraception for seven days.
How do you take levonorgestrel?
You should take levonorgestrel by mouth as soon as possible within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. Make sure that you follow the directions on the label or instruction leaflet carefully and seek further advice if you’re unsure.
If you are currently taking any other medication, whether it is prescription or non-prescription, you should speak to a pharmacist, or check the patient information leaflet before using this morning after pill.
It’s also important to note that levonorgestrel will not protect you against pregnancy for the rest of your menstrual cycle. As a result, you should use a barrier method of contraception, such as a condom, if you have sex before the start of your next period.
What are the side effects of levonorgestrel?
Levonorgestrel may cause some side effects. You may experience:
● Irregular menstrual bleeding or changes to your next period
● Breast pain or tenderness
You should seek medical advice if you experience any of the above symptoms and they are particularly severe or do not go away.
If you experience serious side effects in the weeks after taking levonorgestrel, such as severe abdominal pain or allergic reaction, you should speak to a medical professional immediately.
Where can I buy levonorgestrel?
You can purchase the levonorgestrel morning after pill from a number of different sources, including online or at your local pharmacy.