Intra-uterine insemination (IUI), in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) are frequently used fertility treatments for couples with male subfertility. The use of these treatments has been subject of discussion. Knowledge on the effectiveness of fertility treatments for male subfertility with different grades of severity is limited. Possibly, couples are exposed to unnecessary or ineffective treatments on a large scale.
To evaluate the effectiveness and safety of different fertility treatments (expectant management, timed intercourse (TI), IUI, IVF and ICSI) for couples whose subfertility appears to be due to abnormal sperm parameters.
We searched for all publications that described randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of the treatment for male subfertility. We searched the Cochrane Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Group Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO and the National Research Register from inception to 14 April 2015, and web-based trial registers from January 1985 to April 2015. We applied no language restrictions. We checked all references in the identified trials and background papers and contacted authors to identify relevant published and unpublished data.
We included RCTs comparing different treatment options for male subfertility. These were expectant management, TI (with or without ovarian hyperstimulation (OH)), IUI (with or without OH), IVF and ICSI. We included only couples with abnormal sperm parameters.
Two review authors independently selected the studies, extracted data and assessed risk of bias. They resolved disagreements by discussion with the rest of the review authors. We performed statistical analyses in accordance with the guidelines for statistical analysis developed by The Cochrane Collaboration. The quality of the evidence was rated using the GRADE methods. Primary outcomes were live birth and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) per couple randomised.
The review included 10 RCTs (757 couples). The quality of the evidence was low or very low for all comparisons. The main limitations in the evidence were failure to describe study methods, serious imprecision and inconsistency. IUI versus TI (five RCTs)Two RCTs compared IUI with TI in natural cycles. There were no data on live birth or OHSS. We found no evidence of a difference in pregnancy rates (2 RCTs, 62 couples: odds ratio (OR) 4.57, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.21 to 102, very low quality evidence; there were no events in one of the studies).Three RCTs compared IUI with TI both in cycles with OH. We found no evidence of a difference in live birth rates (1 RCT, 81 couples: OR 0.89, 95% CI 0.30 to 2.59; low quality evidence) or pregnancy rates (3 RCTs, 202 couples: OR 1.51, 95% CI 0.74 to 3.07; I(2) = 11%, very low quality evidence). One RCT reported data on OHSS. None of the 62 women had OHSS.One RCT compared IUI in cycles with OH with TI in natural cycles. We found no evidence of a difference in live birth rates (1 RCT, 44 couples: OR 3.14, 95% CI 0.12 to 81.35; very low quality evidence). Data on OHSS were not available. IUI in cycles with OH versus IUI in natural cycles (five RCTs)We found no evidence of a difference in live birth rates (3 RCTs, 346 couples: OR 1.34, 95% CI 0.77 to 2.33; I(2) = 0%, very low quality evidence) and pregnancy rates (4 RCTs, 399 couples: OR 1.68, 95% CI 1.00 to 2.82; I(2) = 0%, very low quality evidence). There were no data on OHSS. IVF versus IUI in natural cycles or cycles with OH (two RCTs)We found no evidence of a difference in live birth rates between IVF versus IUI in natural cycles (1 RCT, 53 couples: OR 0.77, 95% CI 0.25 to 2.35; low quality evidence) or IVF versus IUI in cycles with OH (2 RCTs, 86 couples: OR 1.03, 95% CI 0.43 to 2.45; I(2) = 0%, very low quality evidence). One RCT reported data on OHSS. None of the women had OHSS.Overall, we found no evidence of a difference between any of the groups in rates of live birth, pregnancy or adverse events (multiple pregnancy, miscarriage). However, most of the evidence was very low quality.There were no studies on IUI in natural cycles versus TI in stimulated cycles, IVF versus TI, ICSI versus TI, ICSI versus IUI (with OH) or ICSI versus IVF.
We found insufficient evidence to determine whether there was any difference in safety and effectiveness between different treatments for male subfertility. More research is needed.