Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, is a medical procedure that involves preserving a woman's eggs for future use. It is designed to protect the fertility potential of a woman by allowing them to freeze their eggs at a younger age when the eggs are of better quality and use them at a later time in their life when they are ready to start a family. The growing popularity and increased interest in egg freezing have made it an important option for women who wish to extend their reproductive options.
In this blog post, we will read about the process and benefits of egg freezing. Let’s dive in.
The Process of Egg Freezing
Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, involves several key steps that allow
women to preserve their eggs for future use. Understanding the process can help individuals make informed decisions about fertility preservation. Here are the main steps involved in egg freezing:
Initial consultation and evaluation:
The process begins with an initial consultation with a fertility specialist. During this appointment, the individual's medical history, reproductive goals, and any underlying health conditions are assessed. The fertility specialist will discuss the process in detail, explain the potential risks and benefits, and address any concerns or questions.
Testing of the patient’s “ovarian reserve” or egg count is then performed to help predict how many eggs the patient can expect to obtain from one cycle. This testing allows the physician to plan an appropriate stimulation protocol. It also helps the patient have an understanding of how many cycles will be necessary to achieve their reproductive goals. Ovarian reserve testing is done through a blood test called AMH or “anti-mullerian hormone” and through a pelvic ultrasound where an “antral follicle count” or AFC is performed..
Ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval:
Once the decision is made to proceed with egg freezing, the individual undergoes ovarian stimulation. This typically involves a series of hormonal injections to stimulate the ovaries and promote the development of multiple eggs. Regular monitoring through blood tests and ultrasounds is conducted to track follicle growth and hormone levels. When the follicles reach an appropriate size, a trigger injection is administered to mature the eggs. Approximately 36 hours later, the egg retrieval procedure is performed under sedation. Using ultrasound guidance, a thin needle is inserted through the vagina into the ovaries to aspirate the mature eggs from the follicles.
Laboratory process and cryopreservation techniques:
After the eggs are retrieved, they are immediately taken to the laboratory for processing. In the lab, the eggs are examined for maturity and quality. Mature eggs are then cryopreserved using either a slow-freezing or vitrification technique. Vitrification is the more commonly used method as it has shown higher success rates. During vitrification, the eggs are rapidly cooled to extremely low temperatures, preventing the formation of ice crystals and preserving their cellular integrity.
Benefits of Egg Freezing
Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, offers several significant benefits to individuals considering fertility preservation. Here are three key advantages of egg freezing:
Preservation of fertility for medical reasons:
Egg freezing provides a valuable option for individuals facing medical conditions or treatments that may affect their fertility. Certain medical treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer, can harm reproductive organs and compromise fertility. By freezing their eggs before undergoing such treatments, individuals can preserve their fertility potential and have the option to use their eggs in the future to conceive biological children.
Empowering women to pursue education and career goals:
Egg freezing empowers women to pursue their education and career goals without the pressure of age-related fertility decline. Many women choose to delay childbearing to focus on their education, establish their careers, or achieve other personal milestones. By freezing their eggs at a younger age, when the eggs are more viable, women can preserve their fertility and have the flexibility to start a family at a time that is personally optimal for them.
Assisting individuals in family planning and postponing pregnancy:
Egg freezing allows individuals to extend their fertility window and offers greater flexibility in family planning. It provides an opportunity to delay pregnancy while preserving the quality of eggs. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals who have not found a suitable partner, are in a committed relationship but not yet ready for parenthood, or wish to focus on personal and financial stability before starting a family.
Success Rates and Factors Affecting Outcome
The success rates of egg freezing, measured by the ability to thaw and fertilize frozen eggs resulting in a viable pregnancy, can vary depending on several factors. Understanding these factors is important for individuals considering egg freezing. Here are three key aspects that can influence the quality and viability of frozen eggs and impact the success rates:
Factors influencing the quality and viability of frozen eggs:
The quality and viability of frozen eggs are crucial determinants of success in egg freezing. Several factors can affect the quality of eggs, including the woman's age at the time of egg retrieval. Younger women typically have better-quality eggs, which have a higher chance of surviving the freezing and thawing process and achieving successful fertilization. Additionally, the number of eggs retrieved during the procedure can also influence success rates.
Impact of age and timing on success rates:
Age at the time of egg freezing significantly affects the success rates of egg thawing, fertilization, and pregnancy. Eggs frozen at a younger age tend to have better viability and are more likely to result in successful outcomes compared to eggs frozen at an older age. This is because egg quality and quantity decline as women age, leading to decreased chances of successful fertilization and implantation.
Timing is also a crucial factor. Freezing eggs earlier, preferably before the age of 35, is generally recommended to maximize the chances of success. However, it is important to note that freezing eggs at any age can still offer benefits and increase the chances of future pregnancy compared to not freezing eggs at all.
Advances in technology and improved outcomes:
Advancements in technology, particularly the development of vitrification techniques, have significantly improved the outcomes of egg freezing. Vitrification allows rapid cooling of eggs, reducing the formation of ice crystals and preserving the cellular integrity of the eggs during the freezing process. This method has shown higher success rates compared to slow-freezing methods, resulting in better survival rates after thawing and increased chances of successful fertilization and pregnancy.
Future Use of Frozen Eggs
Egg freezing, or oocyte cryopreservation, provides individuals with the option to use their frozen eggs in the future for assisted reproductive techniques such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Understanding the possibilities and considerations regarding the future use of frozen eggs is important for individuals who have undergone egg freezing. Here are three key aspects to consider:
In vitro fertilization (IVF) and pregnancy options:
The primary use of frozen eggs is typically in conjunction with IVF. Once the individual is ready to use their frozen eggs, the eggs are thawed, and the viable ones are fertilized with sperm through intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). The resulting embryos are then cultured in the laboratory for a few days before being transferred to the uterus. The success of IVF using frozen eggs depends on various factors, including the quality of the thawed eggs, the quality of the sperm used for fertilization, the age and health of the individual, and the expertise of the fertility clinic.
Addressing concerns about long-term storage and utilization:
One common concern regarding frozen eggs is the long-term storage and utilization of the eggs. Cryopreserved eggs can be stored for an extended period without compromising their quality or viability. The duration of storage can vary depending on individual circumstances and preferences. Fertility clinics typically have stringent storage protocols and monitoring systems to ensure the integrity of the frozen eggs.
Emotional and Financial Considerations
Egg freezing, or oocyte cryopreservation, is a decision that involves not only medical and logistical considerations but also emotional and financial factors. Understanding the emotional aspects and financial implications of egg freezing is crucial for individuals considering this option. Here are three key considerations to keep in mind:
Psychological support and emotional aspects of egg freezing:
Egg freezing can elicit a range of emotions, including hope, empowerment, and relief, as well as anxiety, uncertainty, and even sadness. It is important to acknowledge and address these emotions throughout the process. Seeking psychological support, such as counseling or therapy, can provide a safe space to explore and express these feelings, as well as receive guidance in coping with the emotional aspects of egg freezing.
Cost of the procedure and available financing options:
Egg freezing is a financial investment that can vary in cost depending on factors such as the fertility clinic, location, and additional services involved. The costs typically include consultations, ovarian stimulation medications, monitoring, the egg retrieval procedure, laboratory processing, and storage fees. It is important to research and obtain cost estimates from different fertility clinics, ensuring that all potential expenses are considered.
Weighing the decision and considering individual circumstances:
Deciding whether or not to pursue egg freezing is a deeply personal choice. It is important to take into account individual circumstances, including personal goals, values, and aspirations. Reflecting on factors such as relationship status, desired family size, career plans, and health considerations can help in making an informed decision.
In making decisions about egg freezing, it is important to empower individuals with knowledge, encourage informed decision-making, and provide access to personalized guidance. Audubon Fertility, with its expertise in reproductive medicine, is dedicated to assisting individuals throughout their egg freezing journey. Looking ahead, advancements in technology and ongoing research may further enhance the success rates and options for individuals considering egg freezing, providing even greater reproductive choices.