How to Cope with Side Effects of Fertility Treatment Medication

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Fertility drugs are used extensively to stimulate the reproductive system; but they occasionally come with physical discomfort. Although there is a concern about an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer with the use of fertility drugs, studies have not shown a link between the two.

The most common fertility drugs include Clomiphene popularly known by the brand name Clomid, Human Menopausal Gonadotrophin, and Bromocriptine.

Clomiphene, taken as a pill daily, stimulates the pituitary gland to produce follicle stimulating hormones and luteinizing hormone, which is the hormone that triggers ovulation. The most common side effects of Clomiphene affecting 10 to 14 percent of patients are mild ovarian enlargement and hot flashes.

Clomiphene can also cause mood swings, dry cervical mucus, and stomach pain. A side effect that requires immediate attention is headaches or visual disturbances, especially "floaters" that cloud vision. Clomiphene can also lead to superovulation, which increases the chance of multiple pregnancies.

Human Menopausal Gonadotropin (hMG) is often used as an alternative if Clomiphene does not work effectively. Possible side effects from hMG include head aches and swelling or bruising at the injection site. In rare cases, women develop hyperstimulated ovaries, in which the ovaries become much enlarged. This is a serious condition signaled by sudden onset of severe pelvic pain, nausea, vomiting, or weight gain. If symptoms are severe, close monitoring, including daily weight measurements and ultrasounds may be necessary.

Bromocriptine is taken orally or as a vaginal pill. Side effects from Bromocriptine include headache, nausea, dizziness and low blood pressure. Patients who take the drug vaginally often report fewer side effects. In general, injectible fertility medications tend to have fewer side effects than oral fertility drugs.

One side effect that is common with fertility drugs is the risk of multiple births.  The multiple pregnancy rate is 7-8% of Clomid patients and 30-35% of Gonadotropin (injectable) patients. The majority of these multiple pregnancies are twins.

Offsetting the Side Effects

Before taking any medication, discuss the side effects with your health care provider at length. Most side-effects are usually short-lived and are no cause for concern. Some simple measures that can be taken to minimize the discomfort of fertility drugs are listed below:
  • Take the pills after intake of food to prevent abdominal upsets
  • To minimize the discomfort of injections, topical anesthetic may be applied prior to the injection. Ice should not be used as it may affect the absorption of the medication due to decreased blood flow.
  • Other common symptoms such as insomnia, mild ovarian swelling, breast tenderness and weight gain are normal symptoms where nothing much can be done
  • Irritability, mood swings and all the extra pounds that a woman gains are also normal but a temporary phenomenon that go away in due course
  • Get plenty of fluids, since even mild dehydration can lead to headaches
  • Linking up with support groups helps to share common concerns and advice from those in similar situations.

Also keep in mind that each patient's drug protocol is unique, so no two women will have the same side effects with fertility medication.

Thousands of women undergo fertility treatment every year with no major complaints. When the end result is a safe pregnancy and healthy baby, most women forget the pain and discomfort that they experienced in the course of medication.

East Bay Fertility Centerlocated in Dublin, Californiais well equipped with the latest infertility treatment options and offers comprehensive consultation in the field of Reproductive Endocrinology. The Center is headed by Dr. Ellen U. Snowden a Board Certified Reproductive Endocrinologist and offers a complete mind-body experience for couples with fertility issues. Dr. Snowden brings to her patients a rare and valuable firsthand empathy for the personal pain and emotional stress of dealing with infertility.
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