The efficacy of intrauterine devices for emergency contraception: a systematic review of 35 years of experience

Hum Reprod. 2012 Jul;27(7):1994-2000. doi: 10.1093/humrep/des140. Epub 2012 May 8.


Background: Intrauterine devices (IUDs) have been studied for use for emergency contraception for at least 35 years. IUDs are safe and highly effective for emergency contraception and regular contraception, and are extremely cost-effective as an ongoing method. The objective of this study was to evaluate the existing data to estimate the efficacy of IUDs for emergency contraception.

Methods: The reference list for this study was generated from hand searching the reference lists of relevant articles and our own article archives, and electronic searches of several databases: Medline, Global Health,, Popline, Wanfang Data (Chinese) and Weipu Data (Chinese). We included studies published in English or Chinese, with a defined population of women who presented for emergency contraception and were provided with an IUD, and in which the number of pregnancies was ascertained and loss to follow-up was clearly defined. Data from each article were abstracted independently by two reviewers.

Results: The 42 studies (of 274 retrieved) that met our inclusion criteria were conducted in six countries between 1979 and 2011 and included eight different types of IUD and 7034 women. The maximum timeframe from intercourse to insertion of the IUD ranged from 2 days to 10 or more days; the majority of insertions (74% of studies) occurred within 5 days of intercourse. The pregnancy rate (excluding one outlier study) was 0.09%.

Conclusions: IUDs are a highly effective method of contraception after unprotected intercourse. Because they are safe for the majority of women, highly effective and cost-effective when left in place as ongoing contraception, whenever clinically feasible IUDs should be included in the range of emergency contraception options offered to patients presenting after unprotected intercourse. This review is limited by the fact that the original studies did not provide sufficient data on the delay between intercourse and insertion of the IUD, parity, cycle day of intercourse or IUD type to allow analysis by any of these variables.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Contraception, Postcoital / history*
  • Contraception, Postcoital / methods*
  • Contraception, Postcoital / statistics & numerical data
  • Contraceptive Agents, Female / therapeutic use
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Intrauterine Devices / history*
  • Intrauterine Devices / statistics & numerical data
  • Levonorgestrel / therapeutic use
  • Pregnancy
  • Time Factors


  • Contraceptive Agents, Female
  • Levonorgestrel