Egg freezing or cryopreservation is the method of removing healthy eggs from a woman’s ovaries and freezing them until they can be used for conception.
How does it work?
The first step in egg freezing is egg retrieval. You will be administered hormone injections and birth control pills for 2-4 weeks to temporarily switch off your natural hormones. From the second day of your periods, for the next 10-14 days, you will be given follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) injections to initiate the ovaries to ripen and produce multiple eggs. The maturation of the follicles will be monitored using ultrasound scans.
In the next stage, your doctor will remove the mature eggs with the help of a needle passed through your vagina and guided by ultrasound. The retrieved eggs are immediately frozen in liquid nitrogen.
Freezing can be of two types:
- Slow-freezing: As the name suggests, the eggs are frozen slowly to below freezing point.
- Flash-freezing or vitrification: Water is removed from the eggs and frozen at high speed using a cryoprotecting agent.
The eggs are stored in this frozen state until you are ready to conceive. They are then removed from liquid nitrogen and thawed. The thawed eggs are injected with a single sperm through a process called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), to facilitate fertilization. These embryos are then transferred into the uterus for implantation and progressing into a potential pregnancy.
Am I a candidate for egg freezing?
Egg freezing provides the ability to preserve your fertility. It can be considered for many reasons.
- A woman’s reserve of healthy viable eggs diminishes as she ages, making it more difficult to conceive after 35 years of age. If you intend to postpone your pregnancy because of studies or pursuing a career, you can store your eggs until you are ready.
- Cancer and cancer treatment can greatly affect the quality of eggs in your ovaries. Egg freezing can be considered before you undergo any cancer treatment. Once your treatment is over and you are healthy enough, you can use your stored eggs for conception.
- Premature ovarian failure (early menopause) is a condition characterized by the loss of ovarian function before the normal age of menopause, i.e. around age 40. If you have a family history of early menopause or are at risk of developing the same, you can freeze your eggs at an early age and use them when you are ready to plan your family.
When is the best time to freeze my eggs?
You are in the prime of fertility when you are in your 20’s and early 30’s. The number and quality of eggs in your ovaries decline with age. After 35 years of age, you have 20% chances of conceiving and by age 40, this number falls to less than 5%. So, it is advisable to freeze your eggs as early as possible to get the best quality of eggs.
How many eggs should I freeze?
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the chances of a live birth from a single frozen egg is about 2 to 12%. Therefore, to increase your chances of success, a few dozen eggs may be retrieved and frozen. Your doctor will determine this number based on your age, ovarian reserve and the number of eggs produced in each ovulation cycle. If you are less than 38 years of age, you will be advised to store 10 to 20 eggs per cycle. If you are over 38 years, 10 eggs are stored. Depending on the number of eggs produced in each cycle, multiple freezing cycles may be recommended.
For how long can my eggs remain frozen?
Once frozen, eggs can stay viable for up to 10 years.
How safe is the egg freezing process?
Egg freezing is a relatively safe procedure and has given rise to about 5,000 healthy babies. Many studies have found that this process does not increase the risk of chromosomal defects, birth defects and pregnancy complications when compared to the general population or embryos obtained from fresh eggs.
What is the downside of freezing my eggs?
Despite its many advantages, as with all artificially engineered processes, egg freezing may be associated with certain risks and complications such as:
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a condition characterized by painful and swollen ovaries due to the use of injectable fertility drugs to induce ovulation
- Mild moodiness and bloating as a result of the fertility drugs
- Damage to adjacent organs such as blood vessels, bowel or bladder while retrieving eggs with an aspirating needle
- Risks associated with general anesthesia, if used
- Emotional distress when a cycle does not lead to a pregnancy
- Risk of crystal formation and damage to the eggs with slow freezing. The advent of vitrification and use of a cryoprotectant has overcome this drawback.
What are my chances of pregnancy later if I freeze my eggs now?
As with normal pregnancy, the age at which the eggs are retrieved for freezing plays an important role in the success of this procedure. Freezing eggs removed at a young age from its natural state seems to lock the viability and “youth” of the eggs, providing a higher chance of a healthy pregnancy over the years than an egg that is inside your body for all those years.
Studies have shown that the chance of a live birth is 9 to 24% when eggs are frozen at the age of 30, and drops to 5 to 13% by age 40.
ReproMed Fertility Center is committed to providing comprehensive infertility and reproductive health care, including In-vitro fertilization (IVF). Our physicians formulate individualized treatment plans for each patient so they have the best chance of conceiving. ReproMed Fertility Center can offer new hope to those seeking to overcome infertility in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.