Common Fertility Drugs

Whether you’re new to in vitro fertilization (IVF) or you’ve gone through a few cycles, keeping all the terminology and medication straight can be difficult. It’s a scientific process that’s heavily emotional for each individual who chooses to undergo fertility assistance, so it’s not your fault if you keep asking, “What does that medication do again?” Consider this your primer (and memory booster!) for commonly used fertility drugs, what they do, and how they work.

Generally, there are two types of standard fertility medications: clomiphene citrate and gonadotropins. While clomiphene citrate encourages your body to start the ovulation by interacting with hormone-producing glands, gonadotropins take a different approach. Instead, they work to directly stimulate the ovaries, bypassing your pituitary gland altogether.

Clomiphene citrate (also known by the name Clomid) is commonly prescribed first before fertility specialists move onto gonadotropins. Clomid is successful in helping anywhere between 60 and 80 percent of women ovulate, with about 50 percent becoming pregnant. Research shows that gonadotropins also have a relatively high success rate in helping jumpstart ovulation, and nearly 50 percent of women who take them are able to conceive with their help.

Clomiphene citrate

Medication names you might hear: Clomid or Serophene

What it does: Clomiphene citrate (Clomid) blocks estrogen and helps your hypothalamus and pituitary gland release several hormones that help trigger egg production in the ovaries: gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). This helps jumpstart ovulation in situations where your body may not be doing so. In fertility cases where your body is ovulating, Clomid and Serophene are often used to help your body stimulate extra follicles to release extra eggs (increasing the odds of pregnancy).

Clomid has been widely used in fertility treatment — in fact, it’s been available and used regularly for more than four decades. In most cases, clomiphene citrate is administered to women who are not ovulating, or have difficulty ovulating regularly. A doctor will prescribe the medication — often a starting dose of 50 milligrams per day — to be taken for five days, normally beginning on the fifth day of your period. Clomid will help your body ovulate in approximately five to 10 days after taking the last dose.

How it’s administered: Pill. In most cases, you should not take Clomid for more than six months. Most pregnancies that occur thanks to Clomid happen within three rounds (or cycles) of the medication.

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)

Medication names you might hear: Novarel, Ovidrel, Pregnyl, or Profasi

What it does: hCG helps to mature the follicles in your ovaries and tells your body to release eggs. If a fertility specialist determines that your body isn’t triggering ovulation, and Clomid is not effective at doing so, hCG may be the next medication that is prescribed. If effective, ovulation happens anywhere between 36 and 48 hours after you have taken hCG.

How it’s administered: Injection

Human menopausal gonadotropin (hMG)

Medication names you might hear: Menopur or Repronex

What it does: hMG combines two kinds of hormones — and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) — that work to stimulate your ovaries. This triggers the production of more follicles, which helps your body produce more eggs and heightens the chance of pregnancy. hMG is often beneficial when you need more eggs for one cycle, like in situations when in vitro is utilized.

How it’s administered: Injection

Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)

Medication names you might hear: Bravelle, Fertinex, Follistim, or Gonal-F

What it does: FSH replicates a hormone that your body creates, and tells your body to begin growing and developing more follicles, which leads to the production of more eggs. In some fertility situations, FSH is also administered to men to increase sperm production.

How it’s administered: Injection

Other Medications You May Encounter

The world of fertility medications is vast, and each person who undergoes some form of fertility assistance has a uniquely tailored approach to medications. Because of this, you may hear about or come across these other fertility drugs.

Antagonists: This group of fertility drugs is used to suppress your pituitary gland. It’s normally administered to people currently going through an IVF cycle. Common names for antagonists include Cetrotide and Ganirelix.

Leuprolide acetate: This medication pauses your body’s natural hormone production, and stops the ovaries from developing follicles. This means that your body will also not release any eggs. Leuprolide acetate (known by the brand name Lupron) can be used in fertility cases where more control is needed over your fertility cycle.

Methylprednisolone: This steroid (also known as Medrol) is used as an anti-inflammatory during the IVF process. It helps limit inflammation after an egg retrieval procedure, and is often taken for four days. Medrol reduces irritation and inflammation, making it easier for an embryo to implant, and minimizing the risk that your uterus will reject the embryo.

Progesterone: This injected hormone is often administered during the in vitro process to help prepare the uterus’ lining for an embryo, and helps with implantation. Progesterone can also be taken as a suppository.

Advancements in fertility treatment mean that new medications — and long-time medications with newly realized benefits — become available at any time. Your reproductive specialist knows your particular fertility case best, and will work to prescribe the best course of medications tailored to your unique needs.