OLD imaging techniques give new hope for infertile couples trying to conceive. Infertility affects a substantial proportion of the world’s population. For instance, in the USA ~1 million married women between 15 and 44 years of age are unable to get pregnant after 12 months of trying and 6.9 million women in this age group have used infertility services. Infertility is a complex issue and often doctors cannot find the reason behind a couple’s infertility. Currently, the most common form of artificial reproductive technology received by women, resulting in 1.6% of all children born per year in the USA, is in vitro fertilisation (IVF). However, IVF is a relatively long procedure, costly, and success rates vary substantially.
A study conducted by Prof Ben Mol, University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute, Adelaide, Australia, investigated an infertility treatment first used 100 years ago. The procedure, hysterosalpingography (HSG), was first carried out in 1917 and involves flushing the fallopian tubes with an iodised poppy seed oil. HSG was initially used as a dye test carried out under X-ray to allow examination of the uterus and fallopian tubes of women who were having difficulties conceiving. Prof Mol commented: “Over the past century, pregnancy rates among infertile women reportedly increased after their tubes has been flushed with either water or oil during this X-ray procedure.”
Prof Mol instigated the H2Oil study along with several colleagues. A total of 1,119 women classified as infertile and actively trying for a child were enrolled into the study. Half received HSG using oil (Lipiodol Ultra-Fluid, an iodised solution of fatty acids from poppy seeds), the other half with water.
The results were intriguing, 29% of the water cohort conceived within 6 months and almost 40% of the oil group. Prof Mol commented that the results were “more exciting than we could have predicted” and that: “The rates of successful pregnancy were significantly higher in the oil-based group, and after only one treatment. This is an important outcome for women who would have had no other course of action other than to seek IVF treatment. It offers new hope to infertile couples.” Despite the high success rate, the exact reason for the success is unknown. It is thought that flushing the tubes may remove debris that interferes with fertility; however, this mechanism it has not been researched.
HSG has proven to be fast, reasonably cheap, and, during the 100 years of its use, no side effects have been reported. The results of this study will no doubt spark further research into this technique.