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What is the emergency coil?

What is the emergency coil?

When most of us hear the term “emergency contraception” we think of the morning after pill, but for some women the emergency coil (IUD) may be the better option. Read on to find out why.

The IUD (also called coil or copper coil)

The IUD (intrauterine device) is a type of birth control known as long-acting reversible contraception (LARC). 

The IUD is a small, T-shaped copper and plastic device that’s designed to sit inside the uterus (womb). It slowly releases small amounts of copper, which changes the environment inside the womb so sperm can't survive. The IUD is more than 99% effective and can be left in for several years. Once it’s taken out, your fertility will quickly return to normal. 

If you want an IUD, it will need to be fitted – and later removed – by a health professional, normally at a contraception clinic. Scroll down to “Where can you get the emergency coil fitted?” to learn more.

Using the coil as emergency contraception

The IUD is designed to be used as regular, ongoing contraception, but it can also be used in an emergency situation. If you’ve had sex without using any form of contraception or condoms, you can have an emergency IUD fitted to prevent pregnancy. It is the most effective form of emergency contraception.

For the IUD to be effective, it’ll need to be fitted:

  • No more than five days after unprotected sex, or 
  • No more than five days after the earliest time you could have ovulated

It can sometimes be difficult to get an appointment for this, particularly over a Bank Holiday - so, if you are worried that you might not be offered an appointment in time, you should take oral emergency contraception such as Levonorgestrel or ellaOne. You can still have the emergency coil fitted, even if you have taken the morning after pill.

If you do decide to get the emergency IUD, a big benefit is that you can leave it in and use it as regular contraception for the next few years. 

Is the emergency coil more or less effective than the morning after pill?

The emergency coil is more effective than the morning after pill. Less than 1% of women will get pregnant after having it fitted, provided this is done within five days of unprotected sex or ovulation. 

How long does the IUD last?

There are different types of the IUD, but they all last for five to 10 years. You can have your IUD removed early if you decide you want to switch to another contraception, or if you’re ready to try for a baby. 

Does it hurt to have the IUD inserted?

The honest answer is yes, it can be painful; your doctor will usually advise you to take painkillers before the procedure. It is usually more uncomfortable than having your cervical screening (smear test) done.  The doctor or nurse will insert a plastic device (the so called "speculum") into your vagina which holds it open. They will then push the coil through the cervix (neck of the womb) into the uterus (womb).

Depending on whether you are at risk of STIs you might be offered an STI screen and antibiotics.

You might get cramps afterwards so having some painkillers at hand might be a good idea.

Does the IUD cause side effects?

Some women find that after having the IUD fitted, their periods become heavier, longer or more painful. So if your periods are already heavy or painful, this would not be a good option for ongoing contraception for you.

The IUD also comes with a small risk of pelvic infection. This usually happens in the first 20 days after you’ve had it inserted. An infection can cause pain in the abdomen, fever, and abnormal vaginal discharge. 

Where can you get the emergency coil fitted?

You can get the emergency IUD fitted at a contraception clinic or sexual health/GUM clinics. Coils are also sometimes offered at GP surgeries and young people’s services. 

The morning after pill – the alternative type of emergency contraception – is more widely available, as it’s offered in many walk-in centres, minor injuries units, and high street pharmacies.

What’s the difference between the IUD and the IUS?

The intrauterine system (IUS) is another type of long-acting reversible contraception that’s very similar to the IUD. Both are small, T-shaped devices designed to sit in the uterus, and both are very effective at preventing pregnancy

The key difference is that the IUS is a type of hormonal contraception, as it releases the hormone progestogen rather than copper. Another difference is that the IUS is not offered as a form of emergency contraception. 

The emergency coil vs the morning after pill

If you’ve had unprotected sex and you don’t want to get pregnant, it’s important to get hold of emergency contraception as soon as possible. The type you use is entirely up to you, but for lots of women it will come down to convenience.

Benefits of the emergency coil:

Benefits of the morning after pill:

  • Easy to get hold of 
  • Doesn’t require a face-to-face appointment 
  • Non-invasive and painless

Get the morning after pill from Online Doctor

If you’re seeking emergency contraception, visit our online clinic. Our doctors can prescribe the morning after pill and we stock both types: ellaOne and Levonorgestrel (Prevenelle or Norlevo). Once your order has been approved, we’ll make it available to collect from your nearest LloydsPharmacy store.

Looking for the morning after pill?

Go to our service



Authors and editors

Reviewed and updated by: Our clinical team Date reviewed: 23-08-2023