A 100-year-old Fertility Technique is Helping Women Conceive in Australia
We all know falling pregnant is not easy for some couples. IVF has helped many thousands of couples create the family they’ve always dreamed. Yet for others, the dream still remains through countless unsuccessful rounds of IVF.
But a new study has found a 100-year-old medical technique can help infertile couples become pregnant without the need for IVF.
The technique is not well known, despite dating back over a century, but Professor Ben Mol, from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute, and a member of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute’s Healthy Mothers, Babies and Children theme believes it can play an important role in modern medicine.
The procedure is known as hysterosalpingography (HSG) and involves a dye test of a woman’s fallopian tubes under x-ray. The study known as the H2Oil study, compared the flushing of the fallopian tubes with an oil-based or water based solution in over 1100 women.
“Over the past century, pregnancy rates among infertile women reportedly increased after their tubes had been flushed with either water or oil during this X-ray procedure. Until now, it has been unclear whether the type of solution used in the procedure was influencing the change in fertility,” says Professor Mol, who himself was conceived after his mother underwent such a procedure.
The results showed almost 40% of infertile women in the oil group and 29% of infertile women in the water group achieved successful pregnancies within six months of the procedure.
The oil-based product used in the study is called Lipiodol© Ultra-Fluid, an iodised solution of fatty acids from poppy seeds. It is currently available in 47 countries around the world.
“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,” Professor Mol says.
The study was conducted by Professor Mol, Dr Kim Dreyer and Dr Velja Mijatovic from the Department of Reproductive Medicine, and a research team from Amsterdam and the Netherlands. The research was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)
The results of the study will be published in The New England Journal of Medicine. But the positive effects of the procedure are a welcome breakthrough for couples who have found it difficult to conceive.
“Our results have been even more exciting than we could have predicted, helping to confirm that an age-old medical technique still has an important place in modern medicine,” Professor Mol says.
“It was long believed that testing a woman’s fallopian tubes could have fertility benefits through ‘flushing out’ the kind of debris that hinders fertility. The reality is, we still don’t really understand why there is a benefit, only that there is a benefit from this technique, in particular for women who don’t present with any other treatable fertility symptoms.
“Further research would need to be conducted into the mechanisms behind what we’re seeing. For now, and considering the technique has been used for 100 years without any known side-effects, we believe it is a viable treatment for infertility prior to couples seeking IVF.
“Not only is there a known benefit, but this flushing procedure is also a fraction of the cost of one cycle of IVF. Considering that 40% of women in the oil-based group achieved a successful pregnancy, that’s 40% of couples who could avoid having to go through the huge costs and emotions associated with IVF treatment,” he says.
Professor Mol may not have been born had his mum not had her own procedure.
In the 1960’s Professor Mol’s mother underwent a HSG using Lipiodol® after nine years of infertility.
“My mother went from being infertile for many years to becoming pregnant, and I was born in 1965. I also have a younger brother. So it’s entirely possible – in fact, based on our team’s research, it’s highly likely – that my brother and I are both the result of this technique helping my mother to achieve fertility.”
Currently the use of Lipiodol© is not practiced widely says Professor Mol, but if couples are interested in going down this track, they should “speak with their doctor about it.”
“Professional bodies responsible for guidelines, funders of health care, and fertility clinics all have a role to play in assisting infertile couples to make this intervention available to couples before IVF is started,” he says.
Dr Sonya Jessup, from Demeter Fertility, told Mamamia, the oil is expensive (at about $400) but is “completely safe” with minimal risk and pain that is on par with menstrual cramping.
The results are definitely welcome news for couple requiring fertility treatment. It may be the solution to assist infertile couples have the family they always dreamed.