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100-year-old method to flush fallopian tubes may cut need for IVF

22 May 2017
Appeared in BioNews 901

Flushing the fallopian tubes of infertile women with a poppyseed-based oil increases their chances of conceiving, according to a new study.

The procedure, called a hysterosalpingography (HSG), dates back to 1917 and is normally used to diagnose fertility problems.

'Not only is there a known benefit, but this flushing procedure is also a fraction of the cost of one cycle of IVF,' said lead researcher Professor Ben Mol of the University of Adelaide.

The researchers decided to investigate the method after several infertile women claimed they had become pregnant after having the HSG test. After nine years of trying to conceive, Professor Mol's own mother fell pregnant after having the test in 1964.

'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,' said Professor Mol.

The test examines the fallopian tubes for any blockages that could hinder fertility, and involves flushing the tubes with a special dye to help researchers see contrast in X-ray images.

In the study, researchers from Australia and the Netherlands compared the effects of flushing the fallopian tubes with either poppyseed oil or a water-based solution. The 1119 women in the trial had all been trying to conceive for over a year. However, within six months, almost 40 percent of women in the oil group and 29 percent in the water group were pregnant.

'Our results are even more exciting that we could have predicted, helping confirm that an age-old medical technique still has an important place in modern medicine,' Professor Mol added.

The study does not establish how the flushing technique actually increases fertility but researchers speculate that the poppyseed oil could be flushing mucus or debris out of the fallopian tubes, which could otherwise block egg passage.

The team plan to carry out further research to shed light on how the procedure works, but say it could help many women improve their chances of conceiving before embarking on expensive IVF treatment.

Dr Channa Jayasena, a reproductive endocrinologist at Imperial College London who was not involved in the research, said, 'Since flushing with dye is already done to check the fallopian tubes of infertile women, I can see this being a relatively straightforward treatment to implement.'

The study was published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine.

100-year-old fertility technique reduces need for IVF
University of Adelaide |  19 May 2017
Can poppyseed oil help infertile couples conceive?
STAT |  18 May 2017
Fallopian flush championed as cheaper alternative to IVF by researchers
ABC Online |  19 May 2017
Oil-Based or Water-Based Contrast for Hysterosalpingography in Infertile Women
New England Journal of Medicine |  18 May 2017
Study confirms 'flushing' blocked fallopian tubes can improve fertility and reduce need for IVF
The Conversation |  18 May 2017
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