If you’re a woman with infertility issues, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help you get pregnant. These meds, called fertility drugs, work by causing your body to release hormones that trigger or regulate ovulation — the release of an egg from your ovary.
Even if you already use another method to boost your chances of getting pregnant, such as in vitro fertilization, fertility drugs are still an important part of treatment.
There are lots of these drugs, but here are the basics on the ones that are most commonly prescribed.
Clomiphene citrate (Clomid) has been used for more than 40 years. Your doctor may prescribe it if you’re not ovulating normally.
Clomid and Serophene, the brand names of clomiphene, are known as estrogen-blocking drugs. They cause the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, located in your brain, to release hormones called GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone), FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone). These hormones trigger your ovaries to make eggs.
These drugs are often used along with other fertility methods, like assisted reproductive techniques or artificial insemination.
How you use it: The typical starting dosage of clomiphene is 50 milligrams a day for 5 days. You usually take the first pill on the third, fourth, or fifth day after you start your period.
You can expect to start ovulating about 7 days after you’ve taken the last dose. If it doesn’t happen right away, your doctor may ask you to increase your dose by 50 milligrams a day each month, up to 150 milligrams.
After you start to ovulate, most doctors suggest taking clomiphene for no longer than 6 months. If you haven’t become pregnant after half a year, your doctor will probably prescribe a different medication or suggest that you see an infertility specialist.
How well it works: About 60% to 80% of women who take clomiphene will ovulate, and about half will be able to get pregnant. Most pregnancies happen within three cycles.
Side effects: They’re generally mild. They include hot flashes, blurred vision, nausea, bloating, and headache.
Clomid can also cause changes in your cervical mucus, which may make it harder to tell when you’re fertile and may stop sperm from getting into your uterus.
Like many fertility drugs, Clomid can raise your chance of multiple births.
If Clomid on its own doesn’t work, your doctor may recommend hormones to trigger ovulation. Some of the types are:
Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), such as Novarel, Ovidrel, Pregnyl, and Profasi. This medication is usually used along with other fertility drugs to trigger your ovaries to release an egg.
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), such as Bravelle, Fertinex, Follistim, and Gonal-F. These drugs trigger the growth of eggs in your ovaries.
Human menopausal gonadotropin (hMG), such as Menopur, Metrodin, Pergonal, and Repronex. This drug combines FSH and LH (luteinizing hormone).
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), such as Factrel and Lutrepulse. This hormone triggers the release of FSH and LH from your pituitary gland, but it’s rarely prescribed in the U.S.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist (GnRH agonist), such as Lupron, Synarel, and Zoladex.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone antagonist (GnRH antagonist), such as Antagon and Cetrotide.
These drugs aren’t pills that you swallow. Instead, you take them as shots. The dose varies, depending on how they’re being used.
Some are given beneath the skin, while others are injected into the muscle. You can get the injections on your stomach, upper arm, upper thigh, or buttocks.
You usually start taking them during your cycle, the second or third day after you see bright red blood, and continue taking them for 7 to 12 straight days. Sometimes, you may need to get injections along with Clomid that you take by mouth.
How well it works: As with clomiphene, injected hormones have a high rate of success in helping you to ovulate. Among women who do start to ovulate, as many as 50% are able to get pregnant.
Side effects: Most are mild and include problems like tenderness, infection, and blood blisters, swelling, or bruising at the injection site. There’s also a risk of a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation, which makes your ovaries grow and become tender.
The drugs also raise your chances of multiple births.
Antagon ( ganirelix acetate). It’s an injected drug that can prevent early ovulation in women who are having fertility procedures. Side effects can include stomach pain, headache, and possibly the loss of your pregnancy.
Dostinex (cabergoline) and Parlodel (bromocriptine). These are medications used to lower certain hormone levels and reduce the size of a pituitary tumor that may be causing your ovulation troubles. You usually take them by mouth in small doses, but the amount can be increased if your doctor says so. Side effects include dizziness and upset stomach.