While the specific causes of infertility can be difficult to diagnose, many are hormonal or anatomical issues that go undiagnosed until trying to conceive.
Problems are commonly found in the fallopian tubes; about 40% of female infertility is related to tubal factor infertility. In order to get an official diagnosis, your doctor may want to perform a hysterosalpingogram (HSG). This procedure can help diagnose tubal occlusion or obstruction, as well as uterine malformations, pelvic inflammatory disease, and Asherman’s syndrome. Once confirmed, you’ll have a clearer understanding on the next steps to take in order to build your family.
Also called a uterosalpingography, the HSG test is a procedure that looks at your fallopian tubes and uterus. HSG allows your doctor to more accurately investigate the shape of the fallopian tubes and uterine cavity by inserting a radio-opaque material, often a dye, into the cervical canal. If the tubes are blocked the dye will spill into the abdominal cavity.
It will also indicate if the blockage is distal, at the end of the fallopian tube, or proximal, located at the junction of the tube and the uterus. If the fallopian tube is blocked somewhere, the sperm can’t reach the egg or the fertilized egg can’t get to the uterus – meaning you can’t get pregnant. A partially blocked tube could cause an ectopic pregnancy.
Your doctor will recommend that the HSG is done during the first half of your cycle, between days 1 and 14. This is after your period, but before you ovulate to ensure there’s no chance of pregnancy; HSG should never be performed on a pregnant woman as the procedure and x-ray exposure can lead to serious complications or miscarriage.
An outpatient procedure, HSG can be completed right in your gynecologist’s clinic with an x-ray imager called a fluoroscope. After inserting a speculum, your doctor will clean the cervix and insert a thin tube called a cannula. The uterus will then be filled with a liquid containing iodine before the speculum is removed so that your doctor can take x-ray images. The dye will contrast with the uterus and fallopian tubes, showing an outline and how the fluid moves through them.
How long does it take to do an HSG? The actual procedure only lasts about five minutes, and you may be administered pain medication as well as an antibiotic to reduce the risk of infection. You’ll be able to leave shortly after, though it’s recommended to have someone there with you to help you get home and settled.
Afterward, a radiologist will review the x-ray images and send a full report to your doctor. Because it’s a diagnostic test, it is often covered by insurance; the out of pocket HSG cost generally ranges anywhere from $200-$900.
Some women report light spotting after the procedure; minor cramps, stomach discomfort, and dizziness are also common. Other more serious side effects to watch for include:
Contact your doctor right away if you experience any of these issues. HSG is considered a very safe procedure, but it is possible to develop a pelvic infection, injury to the uterus, and even an allergic reaction to the dye in the fluid. Embolization or blockage can also occur if oil-based materials are used.
If you’re wondering why a hysterosalpingogram is recommended, it’s typically one of the first tests ordered if you’ve had trouble conceiving. It’s also recommended if you’ve had more than two miscarriages; 10 to 15 percent of recurrent pregnancy losses are due to an abnormally shaped uterus. If it shows tubal blockage, your doctor will likely perform a laparoscopy. Depending on the severity, in vitro fertilization may be recommended; this can help you conceive by completely bypassing the fallopian tubes.
Interestingly, some women actually do have greater success getting pregnant naturally after HSG – in fact, the chances can increase as much as 25% for up to three months after the procedure. It may be due to tubal flushing from the oil-based contrast fluid, or even the dye solution enhancing the lining of the uterus. How soon after HSG can you start trying to conceive? You’ll want to follow your doctor’s instructions, but generally, it’s safe to try within several days.
While HSG can boost your chances of conceiving, it’s important to remember that the primary purpose is to serve as a diagnostic test. Learn more about ways to find support in your family building journey, or contact our team to learn all about your options.
All Things Conceivable is a blog dedicated to sharing the knowledge and expert opinions of the dedicated team at ConceiveAbilities, a Chicago-based egg donation and surrogacy agency.