What is Levonorgestrel?
Levonorgestrel is a morning after pill used to prevent pregnancy after you've had unprotected sex, forgotten to take your pill or the condom broke.
It's the non-branded version of the morning after pill Levonelle. Both medicines contain exactly the same active ingredient and work in exactly the same way, but Levonorgestrel is cheaper as it doesn't have the branded name attached to it.
What is Levonorgestrel used for?
Levonorgestrel is a progestogen hormone, which is used in various types of hormonal contraception, including the emergency contraceptive pill.
How does Levonorgestrel work?
Levonorgestrel works by preventing or delaying your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation), which stops it from being fertilised by a sperm. This protects you against pregnancy.
Levonorgestrel does not protect you from sexually transmitted infection (STI). If you're concerned about this after unprotected sex or failed contraception, we can send you a home STI test kit. You won't need to make an appointment or talk to anyone, and your kit will be delivered discreetly to your door.
How to take Levonorgestrel
You should take Levonorgestrel as soon as possible after sex. You can take it up to 72 hours afterwards but it's most effective when taken within the first 24 hours.
After you take Levonorgestrel, restart any regular oral contraception you take immediately, making sure to also use condoms for seven days or until your next period.
How many Levonorgestrel pills should you take? The usual dose is one tablet of 1.5mg. If you weigh more than 70kg and/or have a BMI over 26, or are taking certain medicines that affect your liver, you may need to take a double dose (two tablets) as this will be more effective. Our clinical team will be able to advise on this.
Is Levonorgestrel effective?
Emergency contraception is most effective when used as soon as possible after sex, but it will not stop pregnancy every time.
You can take Levonorgestrel up to 72 hours after sex, but it becomes less effective over time. For the best chances of preventing pregnancy, you should take it as soon as possible within the first 24 hours.
If it's been more than 24 hours since you had unprotected sex, ellaOne — which remains effective for up to 5 days — might be a better option. Find out more about ellaOne.
A 2010 clinical study estimated that around 23 in 1,000 women who take Levonelle or Levonorgestrel within 24 hours of unprotected sex will become pregnant. The same study found nine in 1,000 women who take ellaOne within 24 hours of unprotected sex will become pregnant. The emergency IUD ("copper coil") is the most effective form of contraception with fewer than 1 in 1000 women falling pregnant with this method.
Levonorgestrel is not regular contraception and will not stop you from becoming pregnant if you have unprotected sex after you've taken it, or if you take it after you've already ovulated.
What are the main side effects of Levonorgestrel?
Levonorgestrel, like any medicine, comes with possible side effects.
Common side effects of taking Levonorgestrel include nausea, vomiting and tummy pain. If you're sick (vomit) within three hours of taking Levonorgestrel, you must take another tablet immediately.
You could also get some bleeding before your next period. Your period might be a bit earlier or later than normal (usually within seven days of when expected).
Please read the Patient Information Leaflet that comes with your medicine for full details of side effects and how to take Levonorgestrel.
What else should I know about Levonorgestrel?
If you're taking Levonorgestrel after forgetting your regular contraceptive pill or if you did not use the patch or vaginal ring correctly, you can re-start your pill/patch/ring within 12 hours of taking Levonorgestrel.
You would need to use additional contraception, such as condoms:
- for 7 days with the patch, the ring and the combined pill (9 days for Qlaira)
- for 2 days with the progestogen-only pill
What are alternative emergency contraception treatments?
Like Levonorgestrel, Levonelle and ellaOne are also morning after pills that work by preventing or delaying the ovaries from releasing an egg. This stops the sperm from fertilising it and prevents you from becoming pregnant.
ellaOne contains ulipristal acetate and Levonelle contains levonorgestrel.
As with all emergency contraception, you must take these morning after pills as soon as possible after unprotected sex. Levonelle must be taken within three days (72 hours) of unprotected sex, and its effectiveness decreases after 12 hours. ellaOne on the other hand can be taken up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex and remains consistently effective throughout this time.
What are the non-drug alternatives to Levonorgestrel?
The most effective form of emergency contraception is the IUD ("copper coil"). This can be fitted by a trained doctor or nurse up to 5 days after unprotected sex. It can be fitted after taking tablet emergency contraception and can be effective after ovulation has occurred. It can also be used as ongoing contraception.
To get this you need to contact your GP, Practice Nurse or local sexual health clinic. Find out more information.
Where can I buy Levonorgestrel?
At Boots Online Doctor, we provide fast, convenient and confidential care to help you get the emergency contraception you need. Quick and hassle-free, you can get same-day collection of your morning after pill if you order before 1pm. Going into your local pharmacy to get emergency contraception could be a faster option should you need emergency contraception more quickly.
The price of Levonorgestrel in the UK may vary. Find out more about the morning after pills we offer and how much Levonorgestrel costs.
Desogestrel vs Levonorgestrel
Desogestrel is used in specific progestogen-only pills, such as Cerazette, Cerelle and Zeletta. It has not been studied as an emergency contraceptive. Levonorgestrel is used as an emergency contraceptive, but is also used for other hormonal contraceptives, including in some combined pills and the hormonal IUS.
Can Levonorgestrel cause ectopic pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy is where the fertilised egg implants outside of the uterus. While rare, it can be very serious. As emergency contraception reduces your risk of falling pregnant, it also reduces your risk of having an ectopic pregnancy.
After taking emergency contraception, if your next period is more than 7 days late, is shorter or lighter than usual or you have any sudden or unusual pain in your lower abdomen, please see your GP as soon as possible.
Do I need to take Levonorgestrel if I've just had a baby?
You are not at risk of pregnancy in the first 21 days after you have given birth. Read more about contraception after giving birth.
If you have unprotected sex after 21 days, you would need to consider emergency contraception if you do not wish to fall pregnant.
Can I breastfeed if I take Levonorgestrel?
If you're wondering whether Levonorgestrel could harm your baby, be assured that while Levonorgestrel can be excreted in your breastmilk, there is limited evidence to suggest that this would be harmful to your baby. You may wish to take Levonorgestrel as soon as possible after your last feed and avoid breastfeeding for at least 8 hours.
Will Levonorgestrel stop my period?
After taking Levonorgestrel, your period may arrive later than usual. If it's more than 5 days late, or if you experience any other symptoms of early pregnancy such as nausea, headaches, or breast tenderness, then take a pregnancy test.
Levonorgestrel is only effective as emergency contraception and is not intended to stop your period. Find out what treatments are available to delay your period.
When in my cycle can I take Levonorgestrel?
Levonorgestrel can be taken at any time in your menstrual cycle. However, if you've already ovulated and are in the second half of your cycle, it may not be effective or prevent pregnancy.
If this is the case, we'd recommend still taking the morning after pill as soon as possible and then also contacting your healthcare provider to get the copper coil (IUD, intrauterine device) fitted as emergency contraception.
Levonorgestrel works best if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, but can be taken up to 72 hours afterwards.
How often can I take Levonorgestrel?
If necessary, you can take Levonorgestrel more than once in a menstrual cycle. However, it is emergency contraception and not as effective as regular contraception.
The morning after pill shouldn't be used as a form of regular contraception. If you're regularly taking the morning after pill, talk to us or your usual healthcare provider about contraception options like the pill, condoms, implant, coil, or injection.
You should avoid taking two different types of morning after pill within one cycle as they can affect each other. So if you've already taken ellaOne this cycle, you should avoid taking Levonorgestrel as well.
Levonorgestrel, Levonelle and ellaOne — what's the difference?
These morning after pills all work in the same way by preventing or delaying ovulation.
Levonorgestrel and Levonelle both contain the same active ingredient (levonorgestrel) and work in exactly the same way. Both must be taken within 72 hours but work best if taken within the first 12-24 hours. Levonorgestrel is the non-branded version and is therefore cheaper to buy.
ellaOne contains a different active ingredient (ulipristal acetate) and remains effective for up to 5 days (120 hours) after sex. If it's been more than 24 hours since you had sex, we'd recommend using ellaOne for the most effective option. Find out more about ellaOne.