Morning after pill side effects

Morning after pills are an emergency contraception taken in the form of a tablet after unprotected sex. There are two type of morning after pills available in the UK – Levonelle and ellaONE, which contain the active ingredients levonogestrel and ulipristal acetate respectively.

Both of these are highly effective forms of emergency contraception, but should not be used as an ongoing form of contraception. They are most effective when they are taken with 24 hours of unprotected sex and they prevent pregnancy by stopping the release of an egg and changing the lining of the uterus so that a fertilised egg cannot implant. They will not stop an existing pregnancy.

There are some side effects that can be experienced with the morning after pill, but most of these are minor in nature.

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Very Common Side Effects

The following side effects are experienced by more than 1 in 10 women who take the morning after pill:

Levonelle ellaOne
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Bleeding outside normal menstrual cycles
  • None documented in trials

Common Side Effects

The following side effects are experienced between 1 in 10 and 1 in 100 women who take the morning after pill:

Levonelle ellaOne
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular menstruation or delay of period by more than 7 days
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood disorders
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Vomiting
  • Myalgia (muscle pain)
  • Back Pain
  • Pelvic Pain
  • Dysmenorrhoea (Severe period pain)
  • Breast tenderness
  • Fatigue

Uncommon Side Effects

Side effects are said to be uncommon if they affect between 1 in 100 and 1 in 1,000 women taking the medication.

Levonelle ellaOne
  • None documented in trials
  • Hot flushes
  • Influenza
  • Change in appetite
  • Emotional disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in libido
  • Hyperactivity
  • Somnolence (drowsiness)
  • Migraine
  • Visual disturbances
  • Diarrhoea

Rare Side Effects

Rare side effects are ones than are experienced by between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 10,000 women taking the morning after pill.

Levonelle ellaOne
  • None documented in trials
  • Disorientation
  • Tremor
  • Disturbed attention span
  • Dysgueusia (distorted sense of taste)
  • Syncope (fainting)
  • Abnormal eye sensation, light sensitivity or ocular hyperaemia
  • Vertigo
  • Dry throat
  • Urticaria (hives)
  • Genital itching (pruritus)
  • Painful sexual intercourse (dyspareunia) or vulvovaginal pain
  • Ruptured ovarian cyst
  • Reduced menstrual flow (hypomenorrhea)
  • Thirst

Very Rare Side Effects

Side effects are said to be uncommon if they affect between 1 in 100 and 1 in 1,000 women taking the medication.

Levonelle ellaOne
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Rashes
  • Urticaria (hives)
  • Pruritus (itching)
  • Pelvic pain
  • Dysmenorrhoea (severe period pain)
  • Face oedema (swelling or puffiness of the face)
  • None documented in trials

How to prevent the risk of side effects

The common side effects associated with the morning after pill are relatively minor in nature. But, it is recommended that the morning after pill be avoided if:

  • You've a history of or are at high risk of ectopic pregnancies
  • You've severe hepatic (liver) dysfunction
  • You've conditions like Crohn's disease which would affect the absorption or efficacy of the morning after pill
  • You've rare hereditary galactose intolerance, Lapp lactase deficiency or glucose-galactose malabsorption
  • You've severe asthma being treated with oral glucocorticoid
  • You're already pregnant (although it won't interrupt your pregnancy and at standard dosages there are no indications of foetal damage)

The morning after pill can interact with certain other medications. You should notify your doctor of all other medications and herbal remedies you're taking during your consultation. It is also recommended that you temporarily stop breast feeding for one week after taking the morning after pill.

You should never take more that the dosage prescribed by your doctor or pharmacists. Overdosing can increase your chance of side effects and cause other adverse effects. If you're concerned that you have taken more than your prescribed dosage you should speak to a medical professional as soon as possible.

Dealing with side effects

Some of the side effects that can be experienced, can be similar to symptoms or complications associated with pregnancy and ectopic pregnancy. Most of these will disappear within a few days, but if symptoms persist you should speak to your doctor.

While you may experience some irregular bleeding, most women will get their normal period within 7 days of its due date. If it's later than 5 days, then you should consider taking a test to rule out pregnancy.

If you experience vomiting within three hours of taking the morning after pill it will no longer be effective. You should take another pill, or speak to your doctor/pharmacist about obtaining another prescription as soon as possible. For maximum efficiency you should try and take the morning after pill within 24 hours of unprotected sex.

It is extremely rare, but it is possible to have an allergic reaction to any medication. If you show any signs of an allergy, such as rashes, swelling of your tongue, throat or face or are having any difficulty breathing, you should seek emergency medical help straight away.