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Emergency Contraception

What is it and how does it work?

Emergency contraception can be used if your usual method of contraception has failed, or if you've had sex without using contraception (unprotected sex). If you act quickly, emergency contraception usually prevents pregnancy.

There are two methods:

  • Emergency contraceptive pills contain the hormone progestogen. They must be taken within three days (72 hours) of unprotected sex.

  • The intrauterine device (IUD) must be fitted within five days of unprotected sex. The IUD used to be known as the coil.

The emergency contraceptive pill

Emergency pills are more effective the sooner they're taken after sex. If taken within 24 hours, they prevent more than nine out of ten pregnancies that would have happened had no pills been taken. The IUD is 98 per cent effective if inserted up to five days after sex. Emergency pills must be taken as soon as possible after sex.

The pills work by:

  • stopping an egg being released (ovulation)

  • delaying ovulation

  • stopping an egg settling in the womb

Usually, your period arrives within a few days of when you expect it.


IUDs must be fitted in the womb by a trained doctor or nurse. They work by:

  • stopping an egg being fertilised

  • stopping an egg settling in the womb

It can be removed during your next period if you want.


  • Neither method has any serious side effects, and most women can use emergency pills.

  • IUDs are helpful if you're too late to take pills, if you don't want to take hormones or a long-term method of contraception.


  • With emergency pills, some women experience headaches, breast tenderness or abdominal pain. A few feel sick or vomit.

Can anyone use emergency contraception?

Not everyone can use an IUD. See the feature on IUDs.

General comments

Some prescribed and over-the-counter medicines can affect the way the emergency pills work. Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice. Emergency pills can be taken more than once, but they are not as effective as using a regular method of contraception. If you don't want to get pregnant, use contraception.

Where to get it

Contraception is free in the State Health Sector. Emergency pills are available from GPs, family planning clinics. You can buy hormonal emergency contraception at some private clinics and from most pharmacies if you are 16 or over. It is called Norlevo. The IUD is available from some GPs, Gyanecologists and family planning clinics.

All You Need To Know About Emergency Contraception

ESCAPELLE  is an emergency contraceptive which may be used to prevent pregnancy following unprotected intercourse. It is a single tablet dose, which contains a hormone which prevents a fertilised ovum (egg) from implanting in the uterus (womb) so that a pregnancy cannot develop. It is the only emergency contraceptive available in South Africa that prevents 84% of pregnancies in a single tablet dose, if taken as prescribed – within 72 hrs.

ESCAPELLE can be used:

  • After sexual intercourse where no contraception was used

  • After sexual intercourse during which a condom broke, was displaced, slipped or was improperly removed.

  • If vomiting occurred within 1 hour of taking your regular contraceptive pill

  • In case of sexual assault


  • ESCAPELLE necessitates the intake of one tablet.

  • ESCAPELLE must be taken with some water as soon as possible, preferably within 12 hours, after unprotected intercourse and no later than 72 hours (3 days) after the intercourse.

  • It can be taken at any time during the menstrual cycle.

Please note: Emergency contraceptives do NOT provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases. ESCAPELLE is NOT an abortive agent.

ESCAPELLE should not be used as a regular method of contraception, it should only be used in emergencies. Consult your doctor or clinic to arrange a regular method of contraception that is suitable for you.


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