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Emergency contraceptive pill 'effective after five days'

By Yvette Martyn

A new emergency contraceptive pill can prevent pregnancy up to five days after unprotected sex, according to new research.

The study - published online in The Lancet today - assigned 1694 women to either the current three-day emergency contraceptive pill (levonorgesterel) or the new pill (ulipristal acetate) within five days of unprotected sexual intercourse and followed them up to test the success of the treatment.

They found ulipristal acetate - which is soon to be licensed in the UK - prevented more pregnancies than levonorgesterel, irrespective of the interval between sexual intercourse and treatment.

There were 15 pregnancies in the ulipristal acetate group (1.8%), compared with 22 in the levonorgestrel group (2·6%) over the length of the study. In the 203 women who received emergency contraception between three and five days after sexual intercourse, there were three pregnancies, all in the levonorgestrel group.

Professor Anna Glasier, honorary consultant in sexual and reproductive health at the University of Edinburgh and lead author of the study, urged GPs to prescribe the new treatment.

‘If someone comes to their GP for emergency contraception within 72 hours, should you give them the more effective method? If it were me I would want that to happen, even though it is more expensive.'

Ulipristal acetate, marketed as EllaOne, is a selective progesterone-receptor modulator, was licensed for use up to five days after unprotected intercourse by the EMEA last year and is currently being launched throughout Europe. Levonorgesterel is only licensed for use within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

Dr Martyn Walling, a GP with an interest in women's health, said: 'We can use it for up to five days and that is what it will be useful for, the problem is cost, but it is a lot cheaper than a termination.'

He added: ‘I think we'll use it in cases after three days, if there's any doubt in date, I'd go for the new product.'

Emergency contraceptive pill 'effective after five days'

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