What You Need to Know About Fertility Drugs, According to Experts

Meredith Morckel

Meredith Morckel

Medically reviewed by Mark Arredondo, M.D.

Updated on August 14, 2023

What You Need to Know About Fertility Drugs, According to Experts
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Infertility affects about 1 out of every 10 couples who are trying to get pregnant, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

One-third of the time there is an issue with the woman’s fertility, and one-third of the time there’s an issue with the man’s. The cause is unknown in the rest.

“Since there are many causes, a treatment that works for one person might not be the best choice for another," said Dr. Louis DePaolo, branch chief of fertility and infertility at the NIH.

Learn more about the most common fertility drugs and how they work, how they are administered, their potential side effects and your likelihood of success. Then, ask your doctor about the best options for you.

Fertility drugs

The type of medication you need depends on several factors, according to the Mayo Clinic. They include:

  • What’s causing your infertility
  • How long you’ve been infertile
  • Your age (and your partner’s)
  • Your personal preferences

With that in mind, here’s a guide to fertility drugs:

Clomiphene citrate (Clomid)

What is clomiphene citrate?

Clomiphene citrate stimulates an increase in hormone levels and is good option if you’re a woman who doesn’t have a period often or at all, or your cycles last longer than average, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

How does clomiphene citrate work?

This drug stimulates your ovaries, which helps them release more eggs. The medication affects your pituitary gland, causing it to make more of an important hormone called a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

How to take clomiphene citrate for infertility

You’ll likely start by swallowing a 50 milligram (mg) tablet once per day, according to MedlinePlus. It will probably only be used for three to six cycles.

Potential side effects of clomiphene citrate

Like most medications, clomiphene citrate can cause side effects. The most common ones include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Breast tenderness
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Hot flashes
  • Miscarriages
  • Mood swings
  • Multiple births
  • Nausea
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Pelvic discomfort
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Vomiting
  • Weight gain

If you experience any new symptoms after starting clomiphene citrate, speak to your doctor.

What is the success rate of clomiphene citrate?

The goal of clomiphene citrate is to make your ovaries release more eggs. The more eggs there are, the higher the possibility of pregnancy.

According to St. Mary's Hospital in Manchester, U.K., approximately 7 out of 10 patients treated with Clomid will ovulate and 4 out of 10 will conceive. Most women who will ovulate do so during the first three months of treatment.

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) (Bravelle, Follistim, Gonal-F)

What is follicle-stimulating hormone?

Follicle-stimulating hormone is a hormone made by the pituitary gland that affects function of a woman's ovaries. (It also affects testicle function, the Cleveland Clinic points out.)

In a woman's case, follicles are immature eggs inside tiny sacs of fluid called cysts. The more follicles there are, the more eggs are possible to mature in them.

How does follicle-stimulating hormone work?

FSH stimulates follicle growth in a woman's ovaries.

How do you take follicle-stimulating hormone for infertility?

FSH is delivered by injection, according to the American Pregnancy Association. The needle goes just under your skin.

What are the potential side effects of follicle-stimulating hormone?

The American Pregnancy Association notes that they include:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Depression
  • Hyperstimulation syndrome (enlarged ovaries, tummy pain, bloating)
  • Miscarriage
  • Mood swings
  • Multiple births
  • Premature delivery
  • Swelling or rash where the needle is inserted into your skin

Bromocriptine (Parlodel) and cabergoline (Dostinex)

What are bromocriptine and cabergoline?

These two medications are called dopamine agonists. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, plays many important roles in your brain. For example, it can lower the amount of a hormone called prolactin that comes from your pituitary gland. Too much prolactin can cause infertility, irregular periods or erectile dysfunction, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

What are the potential side effects of bromocriptine and cabergoline?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, bromocriptine and cabergoline can include these side effects:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • stomach cramps
  • heartburn
  • loss of appetite
  • headache
  • weakness
  • tiredness
  • dizziness or lightheadedness

What is the success rate of bromocriptine and cabergoline?

The success rate of these medications when it comes to fertility is unclear.

Always discuss your needs with your doctor and carefully track your cycles. Some medications must be taken at a certain time of month, such as at ovulation.

What This Means for You

Numerous fertility drugs are on the market and your doctor will help you decide which may be right for you.

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