Fertility Drugs for Women and Men
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Fertility Drugs: Treatment Options for Women and Men

Introduction

If you’re trying to get pregnant and it’s not working, you may be exploring medical treatment. Fertility drugs were first introduced in the United States in the 1960s and have helped countless people get pregnant. One of today’s most common fertility drugs may be an option for you or your partner.

Terminology

The table below defines terms that are helpful to know when discussing fertility.

TermDefinition
Controlled ovarian stimulation (COS)A type of fertility treatment. Drugs cause the ovaries to release several eggs rather than one.
Luteinizing hormone (LH)A hormone produced by the pituitary gland. In women, LH promotes ovulation. In men, LH promotes the body’s production of male hormones such as testosterone.
HyperprolactinemiaA condition where the pituitary gland secretes too much of the hormone prolactin. High levels of prolactin in the body prevent the release of LH and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Without enough FSH and LH, a woman’s body may not ovulate.
InfertilityThe inability to get pregnant after one year of unprotected sex in women younger than 35 years, or after six months of unprotected sex in women older than 35 years
In vitro fertilization (IVF)A type of fertility treatment. Mature eggs are removed from the woman’s ovaries. The eggs are fertilized with sperm in a lab and then placed in the woman’s uterus to develop further.
OvulationThe release of an egg from a woman’s ovary
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)A condition where a woman doesn’t ovulate every month
Premature ovarian failure (primary ovarian insufficiency)A condition where a woman’s ovaries stop working before she is 40 years old
RecombinantMade using human genetic material

Fertility drugs for women

Many types of fertility medications for women are available today. You may notice that there are more drugs listed in this article for women than for men. That’s largely because it’s easier to promote egg production in women than it is to increase sperm count in men. Here are the common fertility medications for women.

Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) drugs

FSH is a hormone produced by your body. It causes one of the eggs in your ovaries to mature and causes a follicle to form around the maturing egg. These are key steps the female body goes through as it prepares to ovulate. Like the FSH made by your body, the drug form of FSH can also promote ovulation.

FSH is recommended for women whose ovaries work but whose eggs don’t mature regularly. FSH is not recommended for women with premature ovarian failure. Before receiving FSH, you’ll likely be treated with a drug called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).

FSH is available in the United States in several forms.

Urofollitropin lyophilisate

This drug is made from human FSH. It’s given by subcutaneous injection. That means it’s injected into the fatty area just under the skin. Urofollitropin is only available as the brand-name drug Bravelle.

Follitropin alfa lyophilisate

This drug is a recombinant version of FSH. It’s also given by subcutaneous injection. Follitropin is only available as the brand-name drugs Follistim AQ and Gonal-F.

Clomiphene

Clomiphene is a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM). It works by stimulating your pituitary gland. This gland makes FSH. Clomiphene prompts the gland to secrete more FSH. It’s often used for women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or other problems with ovulation.

Clomiphene comes as a tablet you take by mouth. It’s only available as a generic drug.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)

Human chorionic gonadotropin is a hormone made by your body. It triggers a follicle in one of your ovaries to release a mature egg. It also triggers your ovaries to produce the hormone progesterone. Progesterone does many things, including preparing the uterus for a fertilized egg to implant in it.

The drug form of hCG is often used with clomiphene or human menopausal gonadotropin (hMG). It should only be used in women with functioning ovaries. It should not be used in women with premature ovarian failure. The drug hCG is available in the United States in two forms.

Recombinant human chorionic gonadotropin (r-hCG)

This drug is given by subcutaneous injection. Before using r-hCG, you’ll be pretreated with human menopausal gonadotropin or FSH. Recombinant hCG is given as a single dose one day after the last dose of pretreatment. This drug is only available as the brand-name medication Ovidrel.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)

This drug is injected into your muscle. This is called intramuscular injection. Before using this drug, you’ll be pretreated with human menopausal gonadotropin or FSH. Human chorionic gonadotropin is given as a single dose one day after the last dose of pretreatment. This drug is available as a generic medication and as the brand-name drugs Novarel and Pregnyl.

Human menopausal gonadotropin (hMG)

This drug is a combination of the two human hormones FSH and LH. Human menopausal gonadotropin is used for women whose ovaries are basically healthy but can’t develop eggs. It’s not used for women with premature ovarian failure. This drug is given as a subcutaneous injection. It’s only available as the brand-name drug Menopur.

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) antagonists

GnRH antagonists are often used in women being treated with a technique called controlled ovarian stimulation (COS). COS is typically used with fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

GnRH antagonists work by keeping your body from producing FSH and LH. These two hormones cause the ovaries to release eggs. By suppressing them, GnRH antagonists prevent spontaneous ovulation. This is when eggs are released from the ovaries too early. These drugs allow the eggs to mature properly so they can be used for IVF.

GnRH antagonists are typically used with hCG. Two GnRH antagonists are available in the United States.

Ganirelix acetate

This drug is given by subcutaneous injection. It’s only available as a generic drug.

Cetrotide acetate

This drug is also given by subcutaneous injection. It’s only available as the brand-name drug Cetrotide.

Dopamine agonists

Dopamine antagonists can be used to treat a condition called hyperprolactinemia. The drugs work by reducing the amount of prolactin the pituitary gland releases. The following dopamine agonist medications are available in the United States.

Bromocriptine

This drug comes as a tablet you take by mouth. It’s available as a generic medication and as the brand-name drug Parlodel.

Cabergoline

This drug comes as a tablet you take by mouth. It’s only available as a generic drug.

Learn more: Causes of infertility »

Fertility drugs for men

Fertility medications for men are also available in the United States.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)

Human chorionic gonadotropin occurs naturally only in women’s bodies. The drug form of hCG is given to men by subcutaneous injection. It’s used to boost their testosterone production. This drug is available as a generic medication. It’s also available as the brand-name drugs Novarel and Pregnyl.

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)

Men’s bodies produce FSH to help stimulate the production of sperm. The drug form of FSH serves the same purpose. It’s available in the United States as follitropin alfa lyophilisate. This drug is a recombinant version of FSH. Follitropin is given by subcutaneous injection. It’s available as the brand-name drugs Follistim AQ and Gonal-F.

Learn more: Other treatments for male infertility »

Pregnancies with fertility treatment

Talk with your doctor

If you’re dealing with infertility, talk with your doctor. They can tell you about all of your treatment options, including fertility drugs. Review this list of drugs with your doctor and be sure to ask any questions you have. Your questions may include:

  • What is the reason for my or my partner’s infertility?
  • Am I, or is my partner, a candidate for treatment with fertility drugs?
  • Does my insurance cover treatment with fertility drugs?
  • Are there other non-drug treatments that could help me or my partner?

Learning about all of your treatment options can help you feel more informed and better able to choose the fertility treatment approach that’s right for you.

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