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Hormone Therapy and Fertility

Apr 04, 2019

For a woman struggling with fertility, uncertainty and anxiety are very common emotions. Not knowing if or when pregnancy is possible can create a lot of stress. Luckily, women have found great success with the assistance of hormone therapy for some types of infertility.

For years, doctors have been using two types of hormones—estrogen and progesterone—to treat a number of different conditions, including perimenopause. These two hormones are also effective components of treatment for some types of infertility.

As a woman goes through her monthly cycle, her estrogen levels fluctuate before and after ovulation. These hormones influence the thickness of the uterus' lining, which in turn influences whether or not a fertilized egg can take hold in the uterine wall. Hormone therapy can also help with irregular cycles and bleeding. By administering hormones, it is possible to find a balance that allows a pregnancy to occur.

Estrogen is the most commonly used hormone in fertility therapy. In actuality, estrogen is three different hormones in the body: estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Estradiol is prescribed for some types of infertility and other women's health conditions. Similarly, for progesterone, there is human progesterone and other synthetic compounds. "I like to use human hormones, the same kind that are in the body," says Joseph Stanford, MD, professor in Family & Preventative Medicine at University of Utah Health. "Not birth control pills, [as] those are not human-identical."

By using human-identical hormones, doctors get a better, more predictable response and reduce the likelihood of complications or side effects.

Due to the non-invasive nature of hormone therapy, it can be used very early after infertility treatments begin. "One of the first things we do is test the hormone levels before and after ovulation," Stanford says. "Are they at an optimal level?" If women aren't having regular ovulatory cycles or if hormone levels are not ideal, hormone therapy can begin immediately.

Hormones can create a number of side effects, some of which are actually positive, like a reduced risk of certain cancers. However, adding hormones can sometimes increase premenstrual symptoms like bloating, mood swings, cravings, and irritability. Any severe symptoms should be evaluated and treated. Estrogen can also lead to blood clots, so this should be monitored for the duration of hormone therapy.

Hormone therapy can be a life-changing treatment for infertility. For women who struggle with irregular periods or the inability to conceive, it may well be a critical component of their treatment.