Fertility Drugs Offer Hope
The birth of the septuplets in November 1997 was a testament to the aggressive use of “assisted reproductive technology” in helping infertile couples conceive. The number of couples seeking help is growing, largely because more women are postponing pregnancy until their 30s and 40s, when infertility (the ability to conceive a baby after one year of trying to get pregnant) is more likely.
Help for fertility often means the use of “fertility drugs.” Nearly 2 million women report using these drugs, three times more than the numbers requiring other infertility treatments. Fertility drugs often help the 25% of infertile women who have problems with ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovaries).
Fertility drugs can correct infertility by altering a woman’s hormone levels. Hormones are responsible for the egg’s release from the ovaries and attachment within the uterus. Through a delicately timed interplay, hormones set the stage for the pregnancy. If hormone deficiencies are determined to be a factor in the infertility, drugs can serve as hormone supplements or hormone boosters. They can trigger ovulation to occur and hyperstimulate the ovaries to produce more than one egg to improve the chances of conception.
The most common such drugs are:
- clomiphene citrate, a pill that helps achieve pregnancy rates approaching those of fertile couples when no other infertility factors are present. However, clomiphene citrate increases the likelihood of multiple births because more than one egg may be released.
- human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), given by injection, for women who fail to ovulate with clomiphene citrate alone.
- human menopausal gonadotropin (hMG), a complex treatment of injections requiring frequent monitoring by ultrasound and blood and urine tests. Up to 90% of women ovulate and of these 20-60% conceive, but multiple pregnancies occur in up to 30% and side effects can be a problem.
- follicle-stimulating hormone, by injection, results in ovulation in most women and about a 30% rate of conception.
- bromocriptine, a pill prescribed for some women with high prolactin levels (the hormone that stimulates milk production). When there are no other infertility factors, it produces a very high success rate of ovulation and pregnancy.
The treatment of infertility is a complex science and is best initiated by an infertility specialist.
The Health Alliance offers a center dedicated to reproductive health: Alliance Center for Reproductive Health at The Christ Hospital. This center not only specializes in infertility but in comprehensive care throughout the many stages of a woman’s reproductive life. The center provide gynecological and endocrine services to meet the individual’s needs.
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