With advancement in technology and medical science, more women are coming forward to choose freezing eggs as an option so that they can accomplish whatever they want in their career without compromising on their personal life.
Cryopreservation of mature oocytes is informally known as the egg freezing technique, fertility preservation. A woman’s life involves both family and career, and hence to make appropriate decisions of obtaining motherhood, women choose to freeze eggs.
For women with a valid reason for preserving the eggs for a long time because of some commitments, freezing eggs is an alternative for postponing pregnancy. The aim of freezing eggs is to have children in the future. Women under medical treatment may also choose to do this, in case their capacity to produce eggs is reduced by the treatment.
The procedure includes giving injections for the first two weeks to increase the number of eggs, i.e., ovarian stimulation. Retrieving the egg and freezing the egg is done after the procedure.
Why is Egg Freezing Considered?
Fertility preservation. Preservation of mature eggs by freezing may be considered because of a medical complication or any personal reasons affecting fertility.
You can use these eggs to get pregnant whenever you are ready. Egg freezing is suggested in the following situations:
- Family history indicating early menopause
- Women with genetic conditions, like sickle cell anemia or autoimmune diseases
- Women affected with cancer and yet to be treated.
- Women with medical problems that may affect their fertility
- Women seeking in vitro fertilization
- Women who have undergone surgery impacting their reproductive system
This method provides women hope of a backup plan without being apprehensive about egg quality deterioration.
Elective or social egg freezing. Elective freezing is done when a woman opts for it for personal rather than for medical reasons. It may also be called social egg freezing; this process enables women to accomplish their personal goals without compromising their family.
The core objectives of freezing the egg may be:
- For focusing on the career, education, traveling, or a personal reason
- Have not been successful in finding the right partner
- For security reasons like starting a family, financial stability, or owning a home
- Family planning, when they feel they are too young to have children
Elective preservation is a viable option for women in their 20s and 30s, enabling them to prioritize their careers.
How is Egg Freezing Done?
The egg freezing process is done in the following steps:
- Prep Period
Ovarian reserve testing. Before the procedure, this test is performed to detect the quality and quantity of the eggs, which helps the physician determine the concentration of follicle-stimulating hormone and estradiol present in your blood.
The physician performs a vaginal ultrasound to view the ovaries. They will perform a blood test to decide the proper dose of ovarian stimulation (the synthetic hormones are injected to stimulate ovaries to produce more eggs) and decide how many eggs can be frozen from one cycle.
- Ovary Stimulation and Monitoring
The doctor will prescribe fertility medicines and instruct you to take the shots as done for insulin injections. You should take the injections into your stomach or thighs under the skin. Injections are usually taken with a small needle. These medications help the ovaries to produce more eggs and to mature the eggs.
Your physician will check the hormone levels in your blood and perform a pelvic ultrasound for measuring the follicular growth (development of eggs) and evaluate your response to drugs. You will visit your physician every two to three days.
- Egg Retrieval
About 36 hours before retrieving, a final trigger shot is given to amplify the egg’s maturation. The procedure is performed under anesthesia. A transvaginal ultrasound aspiration- a process when an ultrasound probe is vaginally inserted for detecting the follicles, following which a needle is put in through the vagina into the follicle. A suction tool connected to the needle aids in removing the eggs in the follicle. This procedure helps remove multiple eggs, up to 15 per cycle.
The procedure may take only 20 minutes. The side effects include spotting, cramping, nausea, and most women recover within a day.
After removing the unfertilized eggs, they are frozen in subzero temperatures. Eggs are frozen using liquid nitrogen. The freezing process is called vitrification, which can flash freeze eggs in 20 minutes and avoid ice crystals from forming.
Before development of egg vitrification, cryopreservation was done with a method called slow freezing also known as “controlled rate” freezing. However, the problem with slow freezing was that the longer egg freezing process takes, the more possibility of the formation ice crystals in the egg cell. Ice crystals that form within the water in a cell, may damage the cell structures making it impossible for egg to survive and fertilize. This is important especially for eggs as these eggs have a higher water content compared to other cells you may freeze (such as sperm).
This key problem is addressed in the vitrification method of egg freezing. Egg vitrification is a ‘flash freezing’ method where cells are immersed directly into liquid nitrogen, cooling them so fast to -196ºC that they become ‘vitrified’ or ‘glass-like’. While slow freezing method takes hours, vitrification is completed almost instantly, significantly reducing the chance of the formation of ice crystals and damaging the cell.
Consequently, egg vitrification success rates—defined by the percentage of eggs that survive being thawed—are significantly higher than success rates for slow freezing.
After the procedure
After the procedure, you can perform your normal activities. If you notice any symptoms, such as a high fever of 101.5 F, uncontrollable abdominal pain, weight gain exceeding more than 2 pounds, heavy vaginal bleeding, or difficulty while urinating, contact your physician.
Risks and Effectiveness of Freezing Your Eggs
Egg freezing does not provide any assurance of successful pregnancy or live birth. When you wish to conceive, they will be thawed, fertilized with sperm in the lab, and implanted in your gestational uterus. The probability of getting pregnant is 30% – 60% depending on your age at the time of freezing your egg.
A study in 2016 with 1,176 IVF cycles, which used frozen eggs discovered that, for women under 30, each egg retrieved had a 8.67% chance of having a child, whereas for women over 40, the chances of having a child decreased to 3% per egg.
Physicians usually advise to go for a natural conception rather than such procedures. However in certain unavoidable circumstances, this procedure provides hope for carrying a baby.
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