Generally, fertility drugs are used to treat problems with ovulation or recurrent miscarriage. However, this is not always the case, so even if you’re using assisted reproductive techniques such as IVF (in vitro fertilization), fertility drugs are still an important part of treatment. In this case, fertility drugs may increase the number of eggs the women produces. Some are taken orally, and some are injected. What do these wonder pills and injections do? In general, these medications work by causing the release of hormones that either trigger or regulate ovulation. Fertility drugs can also be used in men to treat male factor infertility, but this is less common.
Commonly Prescribed Fertility Drugs
Since the number and names of all of the infertility medications may seem dizzying, here are the basic facts on the drugs most commonly prescribed.
Clomiphene is usually the first choice for treating infertility, because it is effective. Clomiphene works by stimulating hormones in your brain (hypothalamus and pituitary gland) to release hormones like GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone), FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), and LH (luteinizing hormone) – that will stimulate the ovaries to produce egg (or several) each month, while gonadotropins stimulate your ovaries directly to produce an egg (or several). That’s all some women need to get pregnant.
Brand names: Pergonal, Repronex, Fertinex, Follistim, Gonal F, Novarel, Ovidrel, Pregnyl, Profasi, and Menogon and Puregon (available only in Europe). These drugs are meant to mimic the LH hormone in the body, LH triggers ovulation. And sometimes they are combined with FSH treatment, also known as human menopausal gonadotropins (hMG), but this may be used in some special cases, not that requently. They are injectables.
But like many other fertility solutions, such as in vitro fertilization, fertility drugs can increase your chance of multiple births — and the more babies you carry, the greater your risk for complications such as miscarriage and premature labor. About 10 percent of women who take Clomid have multiples (mostly twins), as do 10 to 40 percent of women who take gonadotropins.
Risks of Fertility Drugs
As with the use of any drug, risks come with fertility drugs. One risk you’re no doubt familiar with is the risk of a multiple pregnancy. Multiples, either twins, triplets, or higher-order, can occur when using fertility drugs. The side effects of clomiphene are generally mild. They include hot flashes, blurred vision, nausea, bloating, and headache. Clomid can also cause changes in the cervical mucus, which may make it harder to tell when you’re fertile and may inhibit the sperm from entering the uterus.
Another potential side effect of fertility drug use is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS. OHSS happens when the ovaries are overly stimulated, becoming dangerously large and filled with too much fluid. This fluid, which is released with ovulation, can lead to serious complications. OHSS is rarely life threatening, but it should be taken seriously.