On the mechanisms of action of short-term levonorgestrel administration in emergency contraception

Contraception. 2001 Oct;64(4):227-34. doi: 10.1016/s0010-7824(01)00250-5.


The effects of short-term administration of levonorgestrel (LNG) at different stages of the ovarian cycle on the pituitary-ovarian axis, corpus luteum function, and endometrium were investigated. Forty-five surgically sterilized women were studied during two menstrual cycles. In the second cycle, each women received two doses of 0.75 mg LNG taken 12 h apart on day 10 of the cycle (Group A), at the time of serum luteinizing hormone (LH) surge (Group B), 48 h after positive detection of urinary LH (Group C), or late follicular phase (Group D). In both cycles, transvaginal ultrasound and serum LH were performed from the detection of urinary LH until ovulation. Serum estradiol (E2) and progesterone (P(4)) were measured during the complete luteal phase. In addition, an endometrial biopsy was taken at day LH + 9. Eighty percent of participants in Group A were anovulatory, the remaining (three participants) presented significant shortness of the luteal phase with notably lower luteal P4 serum concentrations. In Groups B and C, no significant differences on either cycle length or luteal P4 and E2 serum concentrations were observed between the untreated and treated cycles. Participants in Group D had normal cycle length but significantly lower luteal P4 serum concentrations. Endometrial histology was normal in all ovulatory-treated cycles. It is suggested that interference of LNG with the mechanisms initiating the LH preovulatory surge depends on the stage of follicle development. Thus, anovulation results from disrupting the normal development and/or the hormonal activity of the growing follicle only when LNG is given preovulatory. In addition, peri- and post-ovulatory administration of LNG did not impair corpus luteum function or endometrial morphology.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biopsy
  • Contraceptive Agents / administration & dosage
  • Contraceptive Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Contraceptives, Postcoital / administration & dosage
  • Contraceptives, Postcoital / pharmacokinetics*
  • Endometrium / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Levonorgestrel / administration & dosage
  • Levonorgestrel / pharmacokinetics*
  • Luteal Phase / blood
  • Luteal Phase / urine
  • Luteinizing Hormone / blood
  • Luteinizing Hormone / urine
  • Time Factors


  • Contraceptive Agents
  • Contraceptives, Postcoital
  • Levonorgestrel
  • Luteinizing Hormone