This 100-Year-Old Fertility Technique Can Boost Your Chances of Getting Pregnant

A 100-year-old treatment, which flushes out the fallopian tubes, can help increase a woman’s chances of getting pregnant. (Photo: Getty Images)
A 100-year-old treatment, which flushes out the fallopian tubes, can help increase a woman’s chances of getting pregnant. (Photo: Getty Images)

If you have difficulty getting pregnant, it’s easy to assume that in-vitro fertilization (aka IVF) is in your future. But new research points out that there’s a much cheaper procedure with a good success rate that may be worth looking into.

The procedure is called a hysterosalpingography (HSG), and it involves flushing a woman’s fallopian tubes with dye that can either be water-based or oil-based. The procedure is conducted under an X-ray, and it allows doctors to see what a woman’s uterus and fallopian tubes look like. But it also has an unusual side effect: pregnancy.

In the new study, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers point out that several women in their study who suffered from infertility became pregnant after having an HSG. (According to the Mayo Clinic, infertility is defined as not being able to conceive after at least a year of frequent, unprotected sex.) For the study, researchers had 1,119 women undergo an HSG with either an oil-based or water-based solution. Nearly 40 percent of infertile women in the oil group and 29 percent of infertile women in the water group had successful pregnancies within six months of having the procedure.

HSGs aren’t a new procedure — the first one was performed in 1917, and since the 1950s both water-based and oil-based solutions have been used. Doctors have long thought that an HSG helped flush out any debris that might hurt a woman’s fertility, and women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, tells Yahoo Beauty that it’s a little surprising that the solution itself may increase a person’s fertility.

Suruchi Thakore, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UC Health, tells Yahoo Beauty that previous research also shows that oil-based solutions have faster pregnancy results than their water-based counterparts. But, she adds, there has been no increased pregnancy rate over time. (Doctors don’t use oil-based solutions frequently because there is a theoretical increased risk of complications, she says, including an oil clot in the bloodstream or lymph system.)

Christine Greves, MD, an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, tells Yahoo Beauty that an HSG with an oil-based solution is “like putting WD-40 on it.” Oil-based solutions tend to be better at getting rid of debris in general, she says, which may explain why they’re more effective in an HSG. An oil-based HSG may also make a woman’s uterus more receptive to pregnancy, she says: “Not only will it help clear the path for sperm, it can also make the location where it’s trying to go more receptive.”

Sherry A. Ross, MD, a women’s health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period, agrees. “Injecting a more dense oil fluid through the fallopian tubes would flush debris and dislodge mucus plugs easier, increasing the pregnancy rate following the procedure,” she tells Yahoo Beauty.

But David Diaz, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Beauty that couples shouldn’t get their hopes up when it comes to a post-HSG pregnancy. “It’s a diagnostic test; it’s not a fertility treatment or cure for infertility,” he says. “But coincidentally, some women become pregnant afterwards.”

Ross also points out that HSGs are not “without discomfort,” which is why she recommends making sure you really need one before you undergo the procedure.

Like any medical procedure, there are potential risks. Wider says the most common risks with an HSG are an allergic reaction to the dye, infection, or injury to the uterus or fallopian tubes. However, she points out that doctors “have been using this procedure for a long time.”

If you’re interested in having an HSG, talk to your doctor and ask about using an oil-based solution. Your doctor should be able to help you decide if the procedure is right for you.

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