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Chapter: Basic & Clinical Pharmacology : The Gonadal Hormones & Inhibitors

Ovulation-Inducing Agents

Clomiphene citrate, a partial estrogen agonist, is closely related to the estrogen chlorotrianisene.



Clomiphene citrate, a partial estrogen agonist, is closely related to the estrogen chlorotrianisene (Figure 40–3). This compound is well absorbed when taken orally. It has a half-life of 5–7 days and is excreted primarily in the urine. It exhibits significant protein binding and enterohepatic circulation and is distributed to adipose tissues.

Pharmacologic Effects

A. Mechanisms of Action

Clomiphene is a partial agonist at estrogen receptors. The estro-genic agonist effects are best demonstrated in animals with marked gonadal deficiency. Clomiphene has also been shown to effectively inhibit the action of stronger estrogens. In humans it leads to an increase in the secretion of gonadotropins and estrogens by inhib-iting estradiol’s negative feedback effect on the gonadotropins (Figure 40–5).

B. Effects

The pharmacologic importance of this compound rests on its abil-ity to stimulate ovulation in women with oligomenorrhea or amenorrhea and ovulatory dysfunction. The majority of patients suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome, a common disorder affect-ing about 7% of women of reproductive age. The syndrome is characterized by gonadotropin-dependent ovarian hyperandro-genism associated with anovulation and infertility. The disorder is frequently accompanied by adrenal hyperandrogenism. Clomiphene probably blocks the feedback inhibitory influence of estrogens on the hypothalamus, causing a surge of gonadotropins, which leads to ovulation.

Clinical Use

Clomiphene is used in the treatment of disorders of ovulation in patients who wish to become pregnant. Usually, a single ovulation is induced by a single course of therapy, and the patient must be treated repeatedly until pregnancy is achieved, since normal ovula-tory function does not usually resume. The compound is of no value in patients with ovarian or pituitary failure.

When clomiphene is administered in a dosage of 100 mg/d for 5 days, a rise in plasma LH and FSH is observed after several days. In patients who ovulate, the initial rise is followed by a second rise of gonadotropin levels just prior to ovulation.

Adverse Effects

The most common adverse effects in patients treated with this drug are hot flushes, which resemble those experienced by menopausal patients. They tend to be mild, and disappear when the drug is discontinued. There have been occasional reports of eye symptoms due to intensification and prolongation of afterim-ages. These are generally of short duration. Headache, constipation, allergic skin reactions, and reversible hair loss have been reported occasionally.

The effective use of clomiphene is associated with some stimu-lation of the ovaries and usually with ovarian enlargement. The degree of enlargement tends to be greater and its incidence higher in patients who have enlarged ovaries at the beginning of therapy.

A variety of other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, increased nervous tension, depression, fatigue, breast soreness, weight gain, urinary frequency, and heavy menses have also been reported. However, these appear to result from the hormonal changes associated with an ovulatory menstrual cycle rather than from the medication. The incidence of multiple pregnancy is approximately 10%. Clomiphene has not been shown to have an adverse effect when inadvertently given to women who are already pregnant.

Contraindications & Cautions

Special precautions should be observed in patients with enlarged ovaries. These women are thought to be more sensitive to this drug and should receive small doses. Any patient who complains of abdominal symptoms should be examined carefully. Maximum ovarian enlargement occurs after the 5-day course has been com-pleted, and many patients can be shown to have a palpable increase in ovarian size by the seventh to tenth days. Treatment with clomiphene for more than a year may be associated with an increased risk of low-grade ovarian cancer; however, the evidence for this effect is not conclusive.

Special precautions must also be taken in patients who have visual symptoms associated with clomiphene therapy, since these symptoms may make activities such as driving more hazardous.


In addition to clomiphene, a variety of other hormonal and non-hormonal agents are used in treating anovulatory disorders.


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