A new study has shown the benefits of a fertility treatment for the first time - finding a three-fold increase in pregnancy rates among infertile couples.

The research, carried out by Professor Cindy Farquhar of Auckland District Health Board's Fertility Plus, found intrauterine insemination (IUI) combined with clomiphene, a medication used to treat women who did not ovulate, was three times more effective than continuing to try to get pregnant without treatment.

The process involves taking medication for about five days before having sperm inserted into the uterus.

The procedure was less invasive and cheaper than in vitro fertilisation (IVF). One round of IVF was about the same cost as three or four IUI cycles, Farquhar said.

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While IUI had been used for many years, its success rate had never been studied and in 2013 the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommended the procedure no longer be used because of that.

Farquhar said her study had proven it was a technique worth using.

The study of 201 couples who were "relatively infertile" saw half continue to try to conceive naturally while the others were given up to three IUI cycles.

Nine of the women not receiving treatment conceived naturally during the trial while 31 of those who received IUI became pregnant.

Farquhar, who presented the results of the clinical trial at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology Annual Meeting in Geneva, said the treatment gave couples a helping hand by encouraging more eggs to be released, timing it right and getting sperm halfway to the egg before releasing them.

Professor Cindy Farquhar of Auckland District Health Board's Fertility Plus has completed a study showing the benefits of intrauterine insemination. Photo/Supplied
Professor Cindy Farquhar of Auckland District Health Board's Fertility Plus has completed a study showing the benefits of intrauterine insemination. Photo/Supplied

The study gave women better information when they were considering fertility treatments, she said.

Many women tried IUI while waiting for the time frame to pass to allow them to qualify for publically funded IVF, and Farquhar agreed it was a good first treatment option.

"Now we've actually shown it has benefit, whereas people have been disregarding it for years."

Treatment success

Katrina Foster was 35 when she and her partner decided it was time to start a family.

They thought it would be easy but by the time she was 39 they had still not conceived naturally so they turned to fertility treatments.

"People say, 'your clock is ticking' but you don't know the facts," she said. She was told, because of her age, she had a 10 per cent chance of becoming pregnant.

Her specialist suggested intrauterine insemination and Foster was eligible to take part in the trial.

She expected it would likely take all three rounds of treatment to succeed, but just weeks after the first round, tests confirmed she was pregnant.

At the age of 40 she gave birth to her son, Lochlan.

Speaking to the Herald three years after he was born, Foster said having a fertility treatment was a big decision but one she is glad they made.

"We were really thrilled," she said.

A year later the couple decided to try again but after three rounds of IUI and one of IVF, they decided not to continue.

"Even thought I was really disappointed that I couldn't have number two, I have to remember that I'm lucky," she said. "It's a massive emotional rollercoaster."

Foster said she would encourage others in the same situation to give it a go.

"At the end of the day, what have you got to lose?"