How Fertility Drugs Work: What Types of Fertility Drugs are Available and How They Increase the Chance of Pregnancy

Infertility is a reproductive condition that affects approximately 10 to 15 percent of couples in the US. It occurs when an irregularity in the body’s reproductive system prevents the conception of a child. Infertility affects both men and women, so it’s possible for both partners to have a fertility issue that needs to be diagnosed and treated. 

Infertility is generally treated with medications and surgery (about 85-90% of cases). Treatments can also include methods like weight loss, lifestyle changes, treating underlying conditions that can affect fertility, and even assisted reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF). 

Fertility medications can come in the form of pills, injectables, or vaginal suppositories. The type of fertility treatment prescribed depends on multiple factors, including the cause of infertility, a patient’s medical history, and his/her age.

What Types of Fertility Drugs Are Available?

Fertility Drugs for Women

  • Medications that stimulate ovulation: Ovulation stimulation drugs stimulate the production and release of certain hormones—GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone), FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and/or LH (luteinizing hormone)—in the body to prompt the ovaries to make eggs.
  • Hormones that control ovulation for the process of artificial insemination: During assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments like IVF, certain drugs may be prescribed for different stages of the process. Hormones can be used to either stimulate or prevent ovulation, to help the body release several eggs at once, and to support early pregnancy.

Fertility Drugs for Men

Men’s fertility issues can stem from low levels of testosterone and high levels of estrogen. Low testosterone can affect the number of sperm cells the testicles produce, the health of the sperm cells, and the sperm’s ability for movement. The types of drugs used to treat male infertility include:

  • Medications that increase testosterone levels: Medications can be used to increase certain hormones in the body that then stimulate and increase the production of testosterone. Increasing testosterone levels helps the body increase sperm cell count (the number of sperm cells that are produced by the testicles).
  • Medications that decrease estradiol (estrogen) levels: Elevated estradiol (a type of estrogen) in men can affect sperm health. Certain medications can be used to prevent a process in the body where testosterone turns into estradiol. This results in decreased estradiol levels and increased testosterone, improving sperm count and sperm health. 

Fertility Drugs for Treating Medical Conditions in Both Men and Women

Fertility drugs can also include medications used to treat underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to infertility.

Your doctor may choose to treat a condition before starting infertility treatment or to implement fertility treatment alongside treatment for the condition. Some examples of medical conditions that can affect infertility include: 

  • Untreated diabetes
  • An infection of the reproductive tract
  • Conditions of the thyroid

When Should You Seek Help for Infertility?

If you and your partner have been trying to conceive without having success for 12 months, talk to your doctor about possible fertility issues. Getting the right diagnosis is essential to creating a successful fertility treatment plan.