PHILADELPHIA -- Infertile women can improve their chances of becoming pregnant by taking a certain type of non-prescription cough medicine, a study by a gynecologist shows.
'It's not a panacea for all fertility problems,' said Dr. Jerome H. Check, 'but it's so simple to use that I wouldn't want people not to try it.'
Check said cough medicines specifically designed as expectorants improved chances of pregnancy for 23 out of 40 women with infertility problems he treated in a study. Of the 23, 65 percent became pregnant, including several women who had tried unsuccessfully to conceive for three years or more.
'It's so simple, I really don't know why I didn't think of it earlier,' said the Philadelphia fertility specialist, whose use of the infertility drug pergonal resulted in the births of two sets of quadruplets last year. Another set is expected to be delivered in three months.
Expectorants can help in some cases in which a woman's inabilility to become pregnant stems from too much mucus at the opening of the cervix, he said. Although some mucus is essential to enable sperm to travel to the egg, mucus that is too thick can block the cervical canal and result in infertility.
Check estimated the problem accounts for about 20 percent of infertility cases.
Expectorants with the active ingredient guaifenesin thin the mucus, enabling pregnancy to occur in some cases, he said.
Check stressed that only expectorants would work. Cough medicines designed to stop other cold symptoms could dry the cervical mucus and also prevent passage of the sperm.
Check stumbled upon the treatment when one of his patients questioned whether a cough medicine she was taking would interfere with her treatment for infertility.
'I said 'Go ahead, in fact, it might actually help,'' Check recalled. 'At first, I said it almost jokingly, but then I started thinking, perhaps it might really help.'
Check's study, published in the May's issue of 'Fertility and Sterility,' the journal of the American Fertility Society, used a Robitussin cough medicine, but he said any expectorant with guaifenesin in an alcohol base should work.
The women in the study were instructed to take two teaspoons of cough medicine three times a day, beginning on the fifth day of their menstrual cycles and continuing until the mid-cycle point.