COUPLES battling to afford expensive IVF treatment could instead get pregnant using a free 100 year-old fertility test, astounding new research has found.
Australian obstetrician and researcher Professor Ben Mol has found 40 per cent of infertile women get pregnant after their fallopian tubes are flushed out with iodised poppy seed oil.
The test is available for free under Medicare and costs $500-$700 if performed privately and has the same success rate as IVF which costs $10,000.
And Professor Mol, professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Adelaide, is living proof that it works.
His mother was infertile for nine years until she had the test in 1964. He was born a year later.
The procedure, known as hysterosalpingography (HSG), a dye test of the fallopian tubes, is conducted under X-ray and was first carried out in 1917.
The test is available on Medicare but is rarely used now new technology such as ultrasounds have replaced it.
Professor Mol says in the test contrast medium is placed into the womb to check if the woman's fallopian tubes are blocked.
"Once you flush the tubes it opens the way for fertilisation," he said.
His research, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, is based on a large trial of 1100 women and will be presented at the 13th World Congress on Endometriosis in Vancouver, Canada.
In the trial 550 women in the Netherlands had their fallopian tubes flushed out with water and 550 had their tubes flushed out with oil.
Forty per cent of the women whose tubes were flushed out with oil became pregnant within six months and 29 per cent of those whose tubes were flushed out with water became pregnant.
"Only around 20 per cent would have become pregnant without any treatment," he said.
After one cycle of IVF 40 per cent of women aged under 30 get pregnant.
"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 said.
"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."
The advantage of the test is that most of the women get pregnant with just a single baby unlike IVF where there is a higher risk of twin or multiple births that are more high risk.
Professor Mol says the procedure which takes just 15 minutes should be offered to all infertile women as a first resort before expensive IVF treatment is pursued.
"I think we have an obligation, to use resources in a sensible way, I think it should be offered," he said.
Professor Mol says he was unaware his mother had become pregnant after the test and found out only after he discussed his research with her.
"She is proud, she thinks it's an interesting finding," he said.
Asked if there were any risks from the test Professor Mol said there had been one case where the dye had got into the bloodstream of a patient who died.
The dye stays in the body but he says he has no evidence it causes problems for the mother or the baby.
"I've become a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and while I might have been better looking in terms of the brain it's been OK," he said.
"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 per cent of women in the oil-based group achieved a successful pregnancy, that's 40 per cent of couples who could avoid having to go through the huge costs and emotions associated with IVF treatment."
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