Follicular aspiration under transvaginal ultrasound guidance is routinely performed as part of assisted reproductive technology (ART) to retrieve oocytes for in vitro fertilisation (IVF). However, controversy as to whether follicular flushing following aspiration yields a larger number of oocytes and hence is associated with greater potential for pregnancy than aspiration only is ongoing.
To assess the safety and efficacy of follicular flushing as compared with aspiration only performed in women undergoing ART.
We searched the following electronic databases up to 18 July 2017: Cochrane Gynaecology and Fertility Group (CGF) Specialised Register of Controlled Trials, the CENTRAL Register of Studies Online (CRSO), MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL). We also searched the trial registries ClinicalTrials.gov and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform to identify ongoing and registered trials up to 4 July 2017. We reviewed the reference lists of reviews and retrieved studies to identify further potentially relevant studies.
We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compared follicular aspiration and flushing with aspiration alone in women undergoing ART using their own gametes. Primary outcomes were live birth rate and miscarriage rate per woman randomised.
Two independent review authors assessed studies against the inclusion criteria, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. A third review author was consulted if required. We contacted study authors as required. We analysed dichotomous outcomes using Mantel-Haenszel odds ratios (ORs), 95% confidence intervals (CIs), and a fixed-effect model, and we analysed continuous outcomes using mean differences (MDs) between groups presented with 95% CIs. We examined the heterogeneity of studies via the I2 statistic. We assessed the quality of evidence by using GRADE (Grades of Recommendation, Assessment, Development and Evaluation) criteria.
We included ten studies, with a total of 928 women. All included studies reported outcomes per woman randomised. We assessed no studies as being at low risk of bias across all domains and found that the main limitation was lack of blinding. Using the GRADE method, we determined that the quality of the evidence ranged from moderate to very low, and we identified issues arising from risk of bias, imprecision, and inconsistency.Comparing follicular flushing to aspiration alone revealed probably little or no difference in the live birth rate (OR 0.95, 95% CI 0.58 to 1.56; three RCTs; n = 303; I2 = 30%; moderate-quality evidence). This suggests that with a live birth rate of approximately 41% with aspiration alone, the equivalent live birth rate with follicular flushing is likely to lie between 29% and 52%. None of the included studies reported on the primary outcome of miscarriage rate.Data show probably little or no difference in oocyte yield (MD -0.28 oocytes, 95% CI -0.64 to 0.09; six RCTs; n = 708; I2 = 0%; moderate-quality evidence). Very low-quality evidence suggests that the duration of oocyte retrieval was longer in the follicular flushing group than in the aspiration only group (MD 166.01 seconds, 95% CI 141.96 to 190.06; six RCTs; n = 714; I2 = 88%). We found no evidence of a difference in the total number of embryos per woman randomised (MD -0.10 embryos, 95% CI -0.34 to 0.15; two RCTs; n = 160; I2 = 58%; low-quality evidence) and no evidence of a difference in the number of embryos cryopreserved (meta-analysis not possible). Data show probably little or no difference in the clinical pregnancy rate (OR 1.07, 95% CI 0.78 to 1.46; five RCTs; n = 704; I2 = 49%; moderate-quality evidence). Only two studies reported on adverse outcomes: One reported no differences in patient-reported adverse outcomes (depression, anxiety, and stress), and the other reported no differences in needle blockage, vomiting, and hypotension. No studies reported on safety.
This review suggests that follicular flushing probably has little or no effect on live birth rates compared with aspiration alone. None of the included trials reported on effects of follicular aspiration and flushing on the miscarriage rate. Data suggest little or no difference between follicular flushing and aspiration alone with respect to oocyte yield, total embryo number, or number of cryopreserved embryos. In addition, follicular flushing probably makes little or no difference in the clinical pregnancy rate. Evidence was insufficient to allow any firm conclusions with respect to adverse events or safety.