Background: Couples affected by idiopathic subfertility or male subfertility have an estimated spontaneous conception rate of about 2% per cycle. Although various infertility treatments are available, counselling of a couple in their choice of treatment is difficult because of the lack of consistent data from good-quality comparative studies. We compared the results of treatment with intrauterine insemination (IUI) with those of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), and did a cost-effectiveness analysis.
Methods: In a prospective, randomised, parallel trial, 258 couples with idiopathic subfertility or male subfertility were treated for a maximum of six cycles of either IUI in the spontaneous cycle (IUI alone), IUI after mild ovarian hyperstimulation, or IVF. The primary endpoint was a pregnancy resulting in at least one livebirth after treatment. Cost-effectiveness based on real costs was studied by Markov chain analysis.
Findings: 86 couples were assigned IUI alone, 85 IUI plus ovarian hyperstimulation, and 87 IVF. Ten couples dropped out before treatment began. Although the pregnancy rate per cycle was higher in the IVF group than in the IUI groups (12.2% vs 7.4% and 8.7%, respectively; p=0.09), the cumulative pregnancy rate for IVF was not significantly better than that for IUI. Couples in the IVF group were more likely than those in the IUI groups to give up treatment before their maximum of six attempts (37 [42%] drop-outs vs 13 [15%] and 14 [16%], respectively; p<0.01). The woman's age was the only factor that influenced a couple's chance of success. IUI was a more cost-effective treatment than IVF (costs per pregnancy resulting in at least one livebirth 8423-10661 Dutch guilders [US$4511-5710] for IUI vs 27409 Dutch guilders [US$14679] for IVF).
Interpretation: Couples with idiopathic or male subfertility should be counselled that IUI offers the same likelihood of successful pregnancy as IVF, and is a more cost-effective approach. IUI in the spontaneous cycle carries fewer health risks than does IUI after mild hormonal stimulation and is therefore the first-choice treatment.