What role does diagnostic office hysteroscopy play in an infertility evaluation?
More specifically, hysteroscopy is the gold standard for assessing the uterine cavity. The sensitivity, specificity, and positive predictive and negative predictive values of hysterosalpingography (HSG) in evaluating uterine cavity abnormalities were 44.83%; 86.67%; 56.52%; and 80.25%, respectively.2 Given the poor sensitivity of HSG, a diagnosis of endometrial polyps and/or chronic endometritis is more likely to be missed.
Our crossover trial comparing HSG to office hysteroscopy for tubal patency showed that women were 110 times more likely to have the maximum level of pain with HSG than diagnostic hysteroscopy when using a 2.8-mm flexible hysteroscope.3 Further, infection rates and vasovagal events were far lower with hysteroscopy.1
Finally, compared with HSG, we showed 98%-100% sensitivity and 84% specificity for tubal occlusion with hysteroscopy by air-infused saline. Conversely, HSG typically is associated with 76%-96% sensitivity and 67%-100% specificity.4 Additionally, we can often perform diagnostic hysteroscopies for approximately $35 per procedure for total fixed and disposable equipment costs.
How should physicians perform office hysteroscopy to minimize patient discomfort?
The classic paradigm has been to focus on paracervical blocks, anxiolytics, and a supportive environment (such as mood music). However, those are far more important when your hysteroscope is larger than the natural cervical lumen. If you can use small hysteroscopes (< 3 mm for the nulliparous cervix, < 4 mm for the parous cervix), most women will not require cervical dilation, which further enhances the patient experience.
Using a flexible hysteroscope for suspected pathology, making sure not to overdistend the uterus (particularly in high-risk patients such as those with tubal occlusion and cervical stenosis), and vaginoscopy can all minimize patient discomfort. We have published data showing that by using a 2.8-mm flexible diagnostic hysteroscope in a group of mostly nulliparous women, greater than 50% have no discomfort, and more than 90% will have mild to no discomfort.3
What operative hysteroscopy procedures can be performed safely in a physician’s office, and what equipment is required?
Though highly dependent on experience and resources, reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialists (REIs) arguably have the easiest transition to operative office hysteroscopy by utilizing the analgesia and procedure room that is standard for oocyte retrieval and simply adding hysteroscopic procedures. The accompanying table stratifies general hysteroscopic procedures by difficulty.
If one can use propofol or a similar level of sedation (which is routinely utilized for oocyte aspiration), there are few hysteroscopies that cannot be accomplished in the office. However, the less sedation and analgesia, the more judicious one must be in patient selection. Moreover, there are trade-offs between visualization, comfort, and instrumentation.
The greater the uterine distention and diameter of the hysteroscope, the more patients experience pain. One-third of patients (especially nulliparous) will discontinue a procedure with a 5-mm hysteroscope because of discomfort.5 However, as one drops to 4.5 mm and smaller operative hysteroscopes, instruments often occupy the inflow channel, limiting distention and visualization, which also can affect completion rates and safety.