What if certain types of health issues could no longer affect your fertility. Imagine a world where women are no longer affected by the harsh reality of the biological clock. Well, this world exists because of a process called egg freezing or oocyte cryopreservation.

Egg freezing is a process in which female gametes are extracted, frozen, and stored to preserve a woman’s ability to get pregnant in the future. It keeps them for years. These eggs can be fertilized and become embryos implanted in the uterus to carry out a pregnancy. Research on egg freezing began in the 1960s. In 1986, the process of egg freezing took a decisive turn due to the success of the first pregnancy using a frozen egg.
This article will review everything you want to know about egg freezing.

1-What is the egg freezing procedure?

The procedure of egg freezing has multiple steps. It includes ovarian stimulation, egg retrieval, and freezing.

The ovarian stimulation

It consists of injecting synthetic hormones for 8 to 10 days to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs rather than a single egg typically create monthly.  It often takes several cycles to get the number of eggs you need.

The egg retrieval

The second step is the egg retrieval of the oocytes. It is usually done by transv*ginal ultrasound aspiration. Doctors will extract the egg under sedation. A probe is inserted to identify the follicles. A suction device with a needle is used to harvest the mature eggs.

The freezing

It requires high concentrations of cryoprotectant substances, which prevent ice crystals inside the egg during the freezing process. The frozen eggs will then be stored and thawed whenever you need it.

2-How long can the eggs remain frozen?

The eggs can remain frozen for many years without damage. However, some countries such as the UK have introduced a three-to-ten years storage limit for egg frozen for non-medical reasons. However, those who have used egg freezing for medical reasons can keep them for 55 years. (1)

3- Why do women freeze their eggs?

There are many reasons why a woman may want to freeze her eggs.

 Medical reasons

The term fertility preservation is used when egg freezing is motivated by medical reasons. (2)
Egg freezing is a good option for women with health issues or women receiving treatment that may impair their ability to keep their eggs. Freezing their eggs will allow them to use it in the future if they want to conceive. Here are some examples of medical conditions that may justify the use of  egg  freezing:

  • Cancer treatment  (radiotherapy, chemotherapy)
  • Sickle cell  anemia
  • Autoimmune diseases like Lupus
  • Genetic predisposition of premature ovarian failure
  • Severe endometriosis

Non-medical reasons

Egg freezing also allows women to delay motherhood for personal reasons. Women’s fertility decreases drastically as they age. After 35 years, the quality and quantity of female gametes reduce significantly with a high risk of chromosomal abnormalities. (2) As a result, women must often choose between their careers and becoming mothers. If they desire to become mothers, the biological clock urges them to start early to avoid complications related to late pregnancies. Using the egg freezing process, they have more freedom to focus on their careers before thinking about having children.  Some women may also want to freeze their eggs while waiting for the right partner. When egg freezing is used for these reasons, it is called social egg freezing. (2)

4- What are the risks of egg freezing?

The risks are mainly related to the process of ovarian stimulation and oocyte extraction. The complications of egg freezing include:

  •  Infection
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Bleeding
  • Ovarian torsion at the time of the egg retrieval
  • Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS)

Egg freezing is an intense procedure that can be emotionally challenging. Besides, it is important to take your time to make a thoughtful well-informed decision due to the risks associated.

5-Is there an age limit on egg freezing?

Technically there is no age limit on egg freezing. Because of the quality and count of egg that declines with age, egg freezing is not recommended after 38 years (3).  Nevertheless, in some countries, there is a maximum age to access egg freezing. For example:

  • Belgium, you must be under 45
  • Denmark, you must be under 46
  • Germany, you must be between 20 and 49

6-How effective is the egg freezing?

Freezing your eggs does not guarantee at 100% that you will carry out a pregnancy. Indeed, the effectiveness of the procedure varies according to some criteria, such as the age of the patient and the number of frozen eggs. The older the patient, the lower the chances are for successful egg freezing.   A study showed a 100% live birth rate from cryopreserved oocytes for women under 29, compared to 3.7% for women aged 40 to 44. (4)

Besides, an older patient needs a more significant number of frozen oocytes to achieve a successful egg freezing. For a 35 years old woman or younger who has ten frozen oocytes, the probability of a live birth per warmed oocyte is around 60.5%. When the patient is over 35, she will need about 20 oocytes to expect a 60% success rate.

7-Does egg freezing affect the health of future babies?

A study including over 900 babies born from frozen eggs has focused on major congenital malformations. The results haven’t shown an increased risk of congenital disabilities when compared to babies conceived naturally.
Besides, there is no increased risk of pregnancy complications after egg freezing.
Although the data are reassuring, more research is needed to ensure the safety of egg freezing.

8-  How expensive is egg freezing?

Egg freezing is relatively expensive, and your insurance may or may not cover the process. It can cost around $10.000 for an egg freezing cycle. However, pricing varies depending on the center. Some companies, such as Facebook and Apple, offer egg freezing as employment benefits. It is worth mentioning that the thawing, the fertilization, and embryo transfer also cost approximately $5000.

Key Points

  • Egg freezing is a  procedure that allows women to have the opportunity to keep their eggs for long periods and be able to use them later when they are ready.
  • The egg freezing procedure has three steps: ovarian stimulation, egg retrieval, and freezing.
  • The procedure carries some risks such as ovarian torsion and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.
  • You can store your frozen eggs indefinitely.
  • The effectiveness of the procedure depends on the age of the patient and the number of eggs extracted.
  • If you want to freeze your eggs, it is better to do it before 38 years old.
  • The egg freezing procedure is expensive, and you will also have to pay an additional annual storage fee.

References

  1.  Peter Bowen-Simpkins, Jinjun J Wang, Kamal K Ahuja, The UK’s anomalous 10-year limit on oocyte storage: time to change the law, Reproductive BioMedicine Online, Volume 37, Issue 4, 2018, Pages 387-389, ISSN 1472-6483, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rbmo.2018.07.004
  2. Wennberg, A. L. (2020). Social freezing of oocytes: a means to take control of your fertility. Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences, 1-4.  https://doi.org/10.1080/03009734.2019.1707332
  3. Alteri, A., Pisaturo, V., Nogueira, D., A. (2019). Elective egg freezing without medical indications. Acta Obstetricia and Gynecologica Scandinavica, 98(5), 647-652.
  4. Cobo A, García‐Velasco JA, Coello A, Domingo J, Pellicer A, Remohí J. Oocyte vitrification as an efficient option for elective fertility preservation. Fertil Steril. 2016; 105: 755‐ 764.

 

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About the Author

Hermione M.

My name is Hermione. I am the founder of WomenH and I write about women's health, wellness, mental health, and personal growth. I created this platform to inspire women to take care of themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally to become their best selves. Thank you for stopping by.

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