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Understanding Fertility Drugs for Women

Some women seem to get pregnant as easily as breathing. Other women try for years, only to be disappointed every month. If you’ve tried increasing your chances of conception naturally, and nothing seems to work, it might be time to talk to your doctor about whether fertility medication is appropriate for you.  

Do I Need Fertility Drugs?

Almost all prescription fertility medications for women are used when ovulation doesn’t occur. Ovulation takes place a couple of days during each menstrual cycle when an egg is available for fertilization. When the ovaries don’t produce an egg or are erratic in their efforts, it can be extremely difficult to conceive without help. Understand that your doctor won’t just hand you a prescription. It is absolutely necessary to perform tests to make sure that these medications are the right choice for you.

What are Common Fertility Drugs?

The most common medications to assist with ovulation issues are clomiphene and gonadotropins. They are ovulation induction agents that stimulate the pituitary gland to produce hormones involved in ovulation. They either encourage ovulation to happen or regulate its occurrence to make it easier to predict ovulation and, thus, engage in intercourse during that window each month.

These drugs can increase the chances of conceiving safely and effectively. Many women wind up pregnant within a few months—but just because one doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean other medications won’t. Furthermore, if an ovulation induction agent isn’t the right choice for you, you still have other options.


Brand names for clomiphene include Clomid and Serophene, both of which are administered orally in a pill. Clomiphene has been used for a quarter century and is used for many women who fail to ovulate for unexplained reasons. It uses anti-estrogen formulas that cause the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain to release hormones that stimulate egg production in the ovaries. Patients start taking Clomid a few days after a period and often experience ovulation in about 2 weeks.

About 60-80% of women begin ovulating using clomiphene, and about half of those women become pregnant in about three months.  If the medication is ineffective at first, your doctor may recommend increasing the dosage over the next six months. If conception has still not occurred, it may be time for something else. Common side effects may include multiple birth (twins or triplets), hot flashes, bloating, mood swings, pelvic discomfort, and nausea.


Gonadotropins, FSH, or urofollitropin stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs each month, instead of just one, increasing the chances of pregnancy. Gonadotropins are used in an injectable form and given for several days in a row. Patients using these drugs must see their doctor frequently for monitoring. Like clomiphene, about half of patients who ovulate appropriately as a result of the drug achieve pregnancy. Side effects are similar to clomiphene, but also include ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, in which the ovaries become very large. This can be life threatening.

What Next?

If neither ovulation stimulator works for you, it may be time to go back to the drawing board. Your doctor may recommend further testing. Other issues, such as being perimenopausal or having insufficient eggs, may be the culprit. Undergoing fertility treatments can cause a lot of anxiety, particularly when you don’t see immediate results. It’s important to remember that stress isn’t good for conception either. Trust your doctor, speak up if something doesn’t feel right, and enjoy the time with your spouse. You’re a long way from exhausting all your options.

Last Updated: August 27, 2017