Progesterone Supplements (Oral and Vaginal)
* Please note that while I reference intramuscular progesterone injections, I don’t go into detail as I have no experience with them.
Why would you be taking progesterone supplements?
There are a few reasons you might be taking progesterone supplements, which can be delivered orally, through vaginal suppositories, or via intramuscular injection (commonly referred to as PIO). Some examples: (1) You have low progesterone levels. This is usually diagnosed by having a blood test done 7 days post-ovulation. (2) You have a short luteal phase regardless of the results of the 7 dpo progesterone results. I believe that any luteal phase less than 12 days is considered short. (3) Even if your progesterone level and luteal phase are fine, if you are doing IVF (and depending on the RE, IUI) you will probably be prescribed progesterone supplements. Taking the supplement just covers your bases.
Why would you take them orally or vaginally?
The oral supplement is definitely the least invasive way to do the job if it works for you. However, when you take progesterone (or apparently any hormone) orally, it must be metabolized by the liver, which makes the delivery system inefficient and less effective. As for vaginal supplements versus injections, all I can offer is what I’ve been told. For most women, there seems to be no difference in the results. My clinic uses the suppositories because they feel after all the pre-procedure injections they just don’t want to prescribe more injections. My RE also informed me that when they switched to suppositories their pregnancy rates increased. However, there does seem to be evidence that some women have a better response with the injections. I know there are women out in bloglandia who agree with this.
What to expect
You can expect to take the supplements until you take your beta. If it is negative, you will stop and your period will arrive. If it is positive, you will continue taking the supplements for at least a few more weeks and possibly through the entire first trimester. If you are having blood tests done after insemination or transfer and are using vaginal supplements, your blood tests may not reflect high progesterone levels. Do not freak out if your level seems low compared to your friend doing injections. The vaginal suppositories are not systemic- all the progesterone stays right around your uterus and does not show up in blood tests. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The common oral supplement is prometrium. If you are taking this, expect to feel tired… fast. Twenty minutes after taking this I was dead to the world. But I slept great.
There are two vaginal forms: suppository (yellow pill–see picture) and suspended in gel (white bullet-like pill–see picture). The suppositories can be either prometrium (yes, the exact same pill you can take orally) or they can be pharmacy compounded. Not all pharmacies have the capabilities to compound these suppositories- at least not all American pharmacies. I have been told by my RE it doesn’t matter if you use prometrium or pharmacy compounded, but his preference is to use the pharmacy compounded. Whether you use prometrium or the compound suppositories, your dose will typically be 2 to 3 times per day. Expect to feel like you have constantly wet your pants. The prometrium is like a vitamin E–a softish gel capsule. In my experience, prometrium is much less oozy–one or two pantyliners a day should cover you just fine. You may notice some of the yellowish coating on your pantyliner. Gross, but normal. Prometrium can be kept at room temperature. The pharmacy compounded suppositories are very oozy. I frequently change panty liners when using these suppositories. These need to be kept cold or they will melt. When you take it out of the wrapper, it feels kind of waxy. But if you let it rest in your hand, the surface feels slick and oily. This is only the outer coating–if you look at the non-pointy end, you can see there is white goo inside the waxy shell. You may notice some of the disintegrated shell on your panty liner amongst the ooze. Also gross, but also normal.
The suspended in gel supplement (Crinone and similar products) comes in a pre-filled applicator (the pharmacy also gave me an applicator for taking the prometrium vaginally but I’ve never used it. I use my finger because it’s easier to wash.).
It’s been awhile, but as I recall, these applicators do not need to be kept cold. I don’t really remember any oozing, either. But I definitely remember this…when I read the insert, it said that I might see some of the suspension gel ooze out. I imagined that would be some sort of liquefied substance and I never saw any. Then one day I went to the bathroom and saw on my panties this disgusting glob of grainy cottage-cheesiness and I was horrified. That was a few days of the suspension gel–which doesn’t liquefy like I thought–finally succumbing to gravity. It was very gross and completely not what I expected, but also…normal. With all of these supplements, you may feel some bloating. They also cause me to have to pee a lot–especially in the middle of the night.
Problems you may encounter
Other than feeling like you are going to develop some sort of mold on your constantly moist naughty bits, there really aren’t too many problems. I have noticed that some time into the second week of the vaginal suppositories, my vagina feels irritated. If you’ve ever removed a tampon that was too dry, that’s what it feels like. Oh, and this (which I’m sorry, is painfully graphic)… I wiped front to back and when I first used the compounded suppositories and I noticed some irritation around my anus from the progesterone ooze that would linger behind when I was done. Now I just make sure I wipe the excess away from there–usually with damp tissue–and all sees to be well.
As if the tush-wiping wasn’t personal. I try to make sure I space my dosages as evenly throughout the day as I can. And I try to lay down for as much of that as possible to allow the progesterone to absorb before oozing out. No one told me to do that…that’s just my neurosis. I have a three-a-day dose. I do one at 8 p.m. and then crawl into bed and read. I set my alarm for 4 a.m.- I usually have to pee around then anyway- and put in the next dose. At night, I fill a small glass with ice and just set the wrapped compounded suppository on top. This way I can keep the glass on my nightstand and avoid fumbling around my kitchen at 4 a.m. Then I go back to sleep for a few more hours. I take the third dose at noon and just deal with the instant ooze, since I’m at work. But if it’s a weekend, I think an afternoon nap is in order.