There are several types of fertility drugs, most of which are made from hormones intended to stimulate a woman's reproductive system. Alternately referred to as female infertility drugs or fertility medication, some such as progesterone therapy make up for shortages of natural hormone production; others such as Clomid® affect ovulation timing. Your doctor will perform fertility tests to analyze your particular infertility problems, advise you of the risks, benefits, and side effects of the appropriate fertility drugs, and help you decide on a course of treatment.
About Fertility Medication
One way that fertility drugs can be classified is according to their method of administration – i.e., whether a fertility medication is injected or taken by some other means (orally, as a nasal spray, etc.). Injectable fertility drugs typically come in either an ampoule or a vial and may be in either liquid or powder form. Many fertility drugs come as a powder with accompanying diluents (usually water or a saline solution) that must be combined before fertility injections are administered.
Fertility drugs can also be classified according to the type of hormone controlled and the part of the reproductive process (such as increased ovulation with drugs like Clomid®) the medication is designed to stimulate. Depending on the fertility medication and treatment utilized, a fertility calendar can be used to coordinate dosage with the menstrual cycle.
Major Classifications of Fertility Drugs
The following sections provide an overview of four major classifications of fertility drugs:
Progesterone is a naturally occurring hormone that is an important part of helping a woman become pregnant. Progesterone therapy is indicated for cases in which conception is difficult because the woman's body does not produce enough of the hormone on its own. Supplemental progesterone can be used to mimic a regular menstrual cycle and to increase the chances of successful fertilization. This fertility drug can be administered orally, through injection, or through vaginal gels and suppositories. Disadvantages of progesterone therapy include the possibility of nausea, constipation, headache, drowsiness, breast tenderness, joint discomfort, and depression. Some fertility patients may require special supervision when receiving progesterone therapy, including those patients with a history of asthma, epilepsy, migraines, and cardiac problems.
If a woman is unable to achieve pregnancy due to low levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) or follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) production, or if she is undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment, gonadotropins may be administered, often in combination with other fertility drugs. These hormones come in two drug forms: recombinant and urine-based. Both fertility medications can be effective and are administered through injection. Recombinant drugs have proven slightly more successful, but if levels of LH are low, urine-based drugs may be preferable. The fertility doctor and the couple should make the decision about which drug is the best choice before treatment is begun.
Gonadotropin-releasing Hormone (GnRH) agonists are fertility drugs commonly used with in vitro fertilization to increase the chances of pregnancy. GnRH agonists are used to control the production of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone – the hormones that control ovulation – by first increasing and then suppressing them. GnRH agonists give the fertility specialist more control over the timing of ovulation, which is important for IVF. The most common brand is Lupron Depot®, which may be administered on different fertility calendar schedules depending on the particular physician and patient.
Gonadotropin-releasing Hormone antagonists achieve the same purpose as GnRH agonists, preventing the release of LH and FSH so that the doctor can better control ovulation. More control over the timing of ovulation allows fertility doctors greater precision in timing with egg retrieval and other relevant procedures. The advantage of GnRH antagonists is that they may be administered for a shorter duration than the agonists, while producing the same result. Reported side effects of GnRH fertility drugs include: abdominal pain, nausea, headache, vaginal bleeding, and, rarely, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a condition where the ovaries swell and enlarge.
Fertility Drugs for Women
Clomiphene citrate (Clomid®) and gonadotropins are two examples of specific fertility drugs that are often used by women who want to become pregnant. These drugs are associated with fairly high success rates and help millions of women have successful pregnancies.
Clomiphene Citrate (Clomid®)
Known by the brand names Clomid®, Serophene®, and Milophene®, clomiphene citrate is a fertility medication that is used to stimulate ovulation. Clomid® is a very well known fertility drug that entered clinical trials in 1960. The drug is taken orally for five days a month. By manipulating the release of the LH and FSH hormones, clomiphene increases a woman’s chance of ovulation to between 70 and 90 percent. Good candidates include women who infrequently or never ovulate, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and women undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment.
Because it has been used for so long, Clomid® side effects are well-documented. The most common, affecting from 10 to 14 percent of patients, are ovarian enlargement and hot flashes. Fewer than six percent experience abdominal and pelvic discomfort or bloating, nausea and vomiting, breast discomfort, and vision problems, including blurred vision, flashes, and floaters. Fewer than two percent experience headache or abnormal uterine bleeding. Your doctor will carefully monitor any Clomid® side effects and if necessary, discuss alternative fertility medications with you.
Human Menopausal Gonadotropin
Human Menopausal Gonadotropin (hMG) is often used as an alternative if clomiphene citrate does not work effectively. Like clomiphene, hMG works by controlling and producing LH and FSH in order to induce ovulation. This fertility drug can be helpful for women with low levels of estrogen, PCOS, luteal phase defects, unexplained infertility, and those about to undergo IVF. The success rate for inducing ovulation is usually 75 percent or higher.
Fertility Drug Statistics
There are several major classes of fertility drugs with varying success rates for infertility treatment. These include:
- Progesterone and Injectable Gonadotropins (including GnRH Agonists and GnRH Antagonists), which supplement naturally-occurring hormones. By stabilizing a woman's menstrual cycle, these can increase her chances of conceiving.
- Ovulation-inducing drugs include Clomiphene citrate (Clomid®) and Human Menopausal Gonadotropin. These drugs can increase a woman's chances of ovulation by 70 to 90 percent or more.
Find a Fertility Doctor in Your City
To learn more about progesterone therapy or fertility drugs such as Clomid® and their side effects, or to find the fertility medication that is right for you, it is best to speak directly with a fertility specialist. With DocShop's online directory of fertility specialists, you can find qualified physicians in your area and even explore their websites for further information about their practices.