Baseline anatomical assessment of the uterus and ovaries in infertile women: A systematic review of the evidence on which assessment methods are the safest and most effective in terms of improving fertility outcomes

Sarah C. Armstrong, Marian Showell, Elizabeth A. Stewart, Robert W. Rebar, Sheryl Vanderpoel, Cynthia M. Farquhar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: This review focuses on the initial presentation of women who suspect that they are infertile, and how best to assess the anatomy of their uterus and ovaries in order to investigate the cause of their infertility, and potentially improve desired fertility outcomes. This review was undertaken as part of a World Health Organization initiative to assess the evidence available to address guidance for the diagnosis and treatment of infertility within a global context. Providing access to care for infertile women will help to ease the psycho-social burdens, such as ostracization, intimate partner violence and other negative consequences of being involuntarily childless or unable to become pregnant despite desiring a biological child or children. OBJECTIVE AND RATIONALE: The aim of this paper was to present an evidence base for the diagnostic and prognostic value of various investigations used for detecting uterine and/or ovarian pathology in women presenting at fertility clinics for their initial assessment. SEARCH METHODS: We performed a comprehensive search of relevant studies on 28 August and 10 September 2014. A further search was performed on 6 June 2016 to ensure all possible studies were captured. These strategies were not limited by date or language. The search returned 3968 publications in total; 63 full text articles were retrieved and 10 additional studies were found through handsearching. After excluding 54, a total of 19 studies were analysed. We extracted and tabulated data on the characteristics, quality and results of each eligible study and combined the findings in a narrative synthesis. Risk of bias was assessed according to article type using tools such as assessment of the methodological quality of systematic reviews, Newcastle Ottawa Scale, Cochrane risk of bias tool, quality assessment tool for diagnostic accuracy studies and quality in prognostic studies. Nineteen studies were selected as being the best evidence available. A narrative synthesis of the data was undertaken. Discussion of the data, and resultant consensus for best practice were accomplished in a consensus expert consultation in Geneva, October 2015. An independent expert review process concerning this work and outcomes was conducted during 2016. OUTCOMES: The draft recommendations presented here apply to infertile women whether or not they are undergoing fertility treatment. Transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) should be offered to all infertile women with symptoms or signs of anatomic pelvic pathology. TVUS should not be offered routinely to women without symptoms of pelvic pathology. Hysteroscopy should be offered if intrauterine pathology is suspected by TVUS. Hysteroscopy should not be routinely offered to infertile women who have normal TVUS findings. In women who have normal TVUS findings and are undergoing IVF, hysteroscopy does not improve the outcome. Good practice points recommend that providers of fertility care should confirm that all infertile women have a recent pelvic examination, recent cervical screening and well-woman screening in line with local guidelines. Additionally, hystero-contrast salpingography in infertile women does not improve clinical pregnancy rates with expectant management in heterosexual couples and should not be offered as a therapeutic procedure. Most of the findings of this review on diagnosis are based on a low, or very low, quality of evidence, according to GRADE Working Group (grading of recommendations, assessment, development and evaluation) criteria. A low quality grading indicates that further research is very likely to have an important impact on our confidence in the estimate of effect and is likely to change the estimate, while a very low grade indicates that any estimate of effect is very uncertain. WIDER IMPLICATIONS: This review provides the most reliable evidence available to guide clinicians worldwide in the initial, evidencebased investigation of women with fertility problems in order to undertake the most useful investigation and avoid the burden of unnecessary tests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)534-547
Number of pages14
JournalHuman Reproduction Update
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Assessment
  • Hystero-contrast salpingography
  • Hysterosalpingography
  • Hysteroscopy
  • Infertile
  • MRI
  • Ovaries
  • Sonohysterography
  • Ultrasound
  • Uterus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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