Fertility Drugs: Types and Side Effects

If you’re having trouble conceiving spontaneously, your fertility specialist may recommend treatment with fertility drugs. Whether on their own or as part of a course of IVF treatment, these medications are designed to boost your fertility by stimulating ovulation. Are fertility drugs right for your pregnancy goals? Get the facts so you can be ready when you talk to your specialist.

What fertility drugs are available?

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”Fertility drug” is a catch-all term that usually refers to drugs that stimulate ovulation. In fact, there is a range of different treatments used to stimulate female fertility, all of which work slightly differently. To give you an idea of what’s available, here are some of the most popular fertility drugs, and what they do to increase pregnancy odds.

Clomifene(Clomiphene Citrate and Clomid®)

Clomifene works by stimulating the pituitary gland into releasing more of the hormones FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone). These hormones regulate the maturation of follicles in the ovaries and trigger ovulation. This is the standard first-line treatment for infertile women who aren’t ovulating.

If the initial dosage isn’t enough to trigger ovulation, it may be repeated or switched out for other injectable fertility drugs. Pregnancy usually occurs within 3 to 6 cycles if it’s used to induce ovulation, but treatment beyond 6 cycles isn’t recommended by medical experts.

hMG Injections (Menotropin, Menopur® and Repronex®)

Human menopausal gonadotropin (hMG) is an injectable fertility-boosting drug that contains a combination of an LH and FSH to stimulate ovulation. These are thought to be more effective than clomiphene citrate. However, since they need to be injected, you may need assistance from a doctor or nurse.

hCG injections (Novarel®, Ovidrel® and Pregnyl®)

hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) injections promote secretion of the sex hormone progesterone and stimulate the ovaries into releasing a mature egg. This treatment is often used alongside other treatments like hMG injections and clomiphene.

Dopamine agonists (Parlodel® and Dostinex®)

Some women are unable to ovulate normally due to higher-than-normal levels of the breastfeeding hormone prolactin in the bloodstream. Dopamine agonists such as bromocriptine and cabergoline are oral agents that can be taken to bring prolactin levels back down to normal. Up to 85% women are then able to ovulate normally.

Aromatase inhibitors (Femara® and Arimidex®)

These medications were designed to be used as a breast cancer treatment, but are also used to induce ovulation. Some studies have shown that these may be more useful than clomiphene for ovulation problems such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

Side effects of fertility pills and injections

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Every medication is different, and you will need to consult with your healthcare provider to learn the details of your selected fertility drug. However, common side effect of most fertility drugs is an elevated chance of multiple births. In other words, you have higher odds of having twins, triplets, or more.

Natural conception has a less than 1% chance of multiple births, but this rises to 5% with clomiphene, and 20% with hMG injections. Moms should be aware that this increases the risk of pregnancy complications such as premature birth and low birth weight.

Women undergoing fertility treatment is also at an increased risk of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) – a condition caused by the swelling of the ovaries as multiple follicles inside grow at once.

Asking your doctor about fertility drugs

Fertility drugs might seem straightforward at first, but there are a huge number of different treatment options on the market. You may want to ask your doctor questions like those below to help you feel empowered in your fertility treatment when you’re trying to conceive.

  • What are my odds of getting pregnant if I take this drug?
  • What are my odds of having twins or triplets with this drug?
  • How should I take this medication? Is it a pill, an injection, or something else?
  • How will I feel while I’m taking this fertility drug? Should I expect symptoms mood swings and hot flashes?
  • What are the risks of this drug?
  • How much will I have to pay? Is this drug going to be covered by my health insurance?
  • If this treatment doesn’t work for me, what are my next options?

Stay informed about fertility drugs

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Fertility drugs have helped thousands of women conceive healthy babies. However, it’s important to remember that infertility treatments can sometimes put a lot of stress on your mind, body, time and wallet alike. Sadly, pregnancy success isn’t always a measure of how hard you try for it.

That’s why it’s important to go into fertility treatment on the basis of a strong relationship and healthy communication with your partner. Talking over the pros and cons of different treatment options with your partner and healthcare provider can help you stay informed about fertility drugs and achieve your fertility goals.