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6 EGG FREEZING MYTHS EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT

Mya Care Guest Blogger 04 May 2021
6 EGG FREEZING MYTHS EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT

Disclaimer: Please note that Mya Care does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information provided is not intended to replace the care or advice of a qualified health care professional. Always consult your doctor for all diagnoses, treatments, and cures for any diseases or conditions, as well as before changing your health care regimen.

In the last few decades, incredible leaps and bounds have been made in assisted reproductive technology. For those who stand a low chance of having children, this technology has helped to improve functional aspects of fertility and has allowed for many infertile couples to successfully conceive. The more time that goes by, the more the limits of reproductive science are being stretched and new frontiers are being achieved.

One such avenue would be egg freezing, which is now a widely available option for women everywhere. However, the technology is still very new and there is still much to learn. The following article discusses egg freezing, what it is, why and how it’s done, as well as six important myths that have already arisen regarding this cutting edge technology.

What is Medical Egg Freezing?

Egg freezing is a layman’s term that refers to oocyte cryopreservation or the act of extracting and storing (freezing) female egg cells for later use. This is a relatively new medical procedure in which the woman’s cycle is chemically disrupted in order to promote the release of many eggs at once. When released from the ovaries and ready, a clinician harvests them from the uterus via the vaginal canal.[1]

Once the eggs have been retrieved, they are stored in an egg bank via cryopreservation or freezing. When the egg donor is able to fall pregnant and have children, the eggs are allowed to thaw and then fertilized by sperm from either a partner or a sperm donor.  This is practically the same thing as in vitro fertilization and the egg donor is also chemically prepared to receive her fertilized eggs so that she may fall pregnant.

Why Freeze Eggs?

Women freeze eggs mainly to preserve their ability to fall pregnant at a later stage in life. It is common that young women with a high risk of reproductive abnormalities later on in life; either as a result of a primary reproductive disease (e.g. PCOS, ovarian cancer, etc) or secondary effect of another chronic disease (e.g. cystic fibrosis) or disease treatment (e.g. chemotherapy[2]). Premature ovarian failure[3] or early menopause are often the result, preventing ovulation and diminishing fertility.[4]

Genetic defects in a woman’s lifelong egg supply tend to increase as she ages[5]. Younger women are encouraged to freeze eggs in some social circles in order to pursue their careers and entertain child bearing at a later age. This is known as social egg freezing and it is still a very new concept.

If successful, freezing one’s eggs also allows for the parents to have more genetic control over the development of their offspring – in other words, they can choose to fertilize eggs with less chromosomal defects, selecting the most perfect ‘seeds’ for germination.

The Costs Involved

Surveys reveal that medical egg freezing can cost anywhere between $3000 and $5000, going up to $10 000 and over in some cases. Additional fees may be charged to store the eggs after collection and for additional consultations.

Side Effects

Just like the majority of medical operations, the egg preservation procedure is not free from side effects. They include[6]:

  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Weight gain
  • Acne
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches

Rare complications include ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome in which excessive weight is gained in a short space of time (3-5 days), accompanied by pain and nausea.

Top 6 Myths on Egg Freezing

Egg freezing is not a perfect science. While it is a great option for many women, there are many false perceptions that should be looked at in more detail.  

1. The Procedure Is Not Complicated and Takes No Time

Like most medical treatment procedures, there are a few ways in which egg freezing can be tackled. There are slow-freezing methods and flash-freezing ones (vitrification).  Either method involves the use of self-administered medications and/or hormone injections that the donor needs to make space for throughout her day.

Many women struggle up front with integrating the procedure into their busy daily lives, let alone the stress of having to inject themselves. Not every woman masters the art of self-injection and so multiple trips into the doctor’s office may also be required for these types of procedures. After some chemical preparation, the egg extraction procedure is something similar to a mild form of surgery and time off will additionally be required to recover from it.[7]

Aside from the high risk of botching up a self-administered injection, any slight deviation from the administration times of the medication can cause hormone-related issues for the donor’s biological clock. The treatment already is known to cause hormone-related moodiness and other similar unpleasant side effects, which may be amplified by getting the timing wrong.

2. Freezing Eggs Has Proven To Be Safe

As of 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) announced that egg freezing is no longer an experimental procedure. However, these two medical bodies also published strict guidelines pertaining to the appropriate use of the fertility preservation technique which warns against using it to “prevent” age-related fertility decline. Nevertheless, social (non-medical) age-related egg freezing has become a rising trend in the US.[8]

All research regarding egg freezing has largely been carried out on those who already had a very low chance in the first place. There is very little data on age-related egg freezing and that is one main reason it is guarded against. Later publications have surfaced since, arguing a point for social egg freezing using the available data. Yet as far as many medical representatives are concerned, it is still experimental to apply egg freezing for this purpose.

Moreover, there is very limited information on the children successfully born from frozen eggs and whether it may have an impact on their physiology and development throughout life. Women who manage to successfully give birth in their 40’s tend to end up with children that have genetic diseases like Down’s syndrome. As egg freezing tends to disrupt cell division in the early embryonic developmental phases, it is possible that children born of this technique will have similar problems. Both human and animal studies indicate that the results could enhance greater epigenetic problems in children that were born viz. in vitro fertilization and frozen eggs.[9]

3. Egg Extraction Does Not Affect Reproductive Health Going Forward

Nobody can make this claim yet as we simply don’t know enough. It should be understood that hormones are not something that can be easily interfered with and that doing as much is likely to have biological consequences.

The procedure involves increasing levels of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone in order to encourage the ovaries to release more eggs. Another effect of both these hormones is increasing endometrial growth[10], which if done too much can contribute towards endometriosis. Preliminary evidence suggests that many fertility-enhancing drug treatments, such as used in egg preservation, may also increase the risk acquiring ovarian cancer later on in life[11]. Therefore those with endometriosis or female reproductive cancers should probably avoid egg freezing procedures.

In line with this, reproductive issues were reported in women who have had several rounds of eggs collected and frozen. Doctors encourage the extraction of multiple eggs to increase the chances of success[12], however it may detract from success in the long run due to potential long-lasting consequences that have not been well-researched as of yet.

Another point to consider here is that egg freezing might promote premature menopause (particularly if done a lot) and therefore defeat the purpose. There is no science to prove that egg freezing would induce premature menopause or not; however it is a well-known fact that the levels of LH and FSH appear to be commonly elevated in post-menopausal women[13] [14].

It is also a known fact that the ratios of these crucial hormones can make or break the health of viable egg cells, whether or not the egg cell can be fertilized by sperm and so on. The egg retrieval procedure is the same for both oocyte cryopreservation and for in vitro fertilization, and the treatment aims to get this ratio correct in order to preserve the health of the eggs[15]. All the above and more are good reasons for one to get tested for hormone levels beforehand, as the standardized preparations do not take into consideration hormone deviations from woman to woman.

4. Frozen Eggs Are As Perfect As the Day They Were Harvested

It is true that an egg cell from a younger woman is likely to do better than that from an older woman. However, no matter when eggs are harvested, the process itself detracts from the viability of the eggs[16]. So harvesting your eggs young does not mean they will still be that young when you unfreeze them later on.

Slow-freezing of eggs has proven to harm the egg cells and interfere with their natural division processes as early as mitosis (the first division of a cell). When tested, frozen eggs stood a 14% less chance of developing into embryos (79%) compared with fresh eggs (93%)[17]. These figures match up with other studies in which frozen eggs could be fertilized up to 79% of the time but the chances of successful gestation and birth were as low as 2-12%.

Recent advances in the technology have given rise to vitrification or flash-freezing processes which offer a much higher success rate comparable or better than that of fresh eggs (95%). In this respect, if you are going to get your eggs frozen, opt for the vitrification process as it offers better results[18]. However, results are similar after incubation of a few hours and division is still affected in spite of the chosen cryopreservation technique. [19]

5. Egg Freezing Ensures A Woman Can Have Children Later in Life

It should be obvious from the previously discussed myths that egg freezing often results in an unsuccessful outcome and therefore is not foolproof. A lot of medical authorities are warning women of the “emotional risks” of egg freezing, particularly those who do not have a reproductive deficit prior to menopause. The truth is: it can increase your chances if they are already low and still present with a low chance of success.

While your best eggs are going to be chosen, the condition of them after freezing may not be as good as the days in which they are “fresh.” Eggs aside, women in their late 30’s and more commonly, their 40’s, have a much higher risk of having kids with congenital abnormalities even if fertilization is successful.

Many single women decide to freeze eggs, in the event that they will get a partner that they want to have children with at a later time in their lives when they are unable or the chances of falling pregnant are low. Unfortunately, this is also another reason why egg freezing may not pan out as intended.

Lastly, the rules around egg freezing differ from country to country, with some legislation insisting on a time limit while others will store the eggs indefinitely. For example, there is a time limit of 10 years on egg freezing in the UK[20]. This contradicts the logic in storing the most viable eggs when a woman is in her 20’s for later in life, when she would perhaps prefer to have children. With an increased incidence in social egg freezing, efforts are underway to dispense with these kinds of limitations.[21]

6. Young Women Should Freeze Their Eggs

Not all women should freeze their eggs and it is by no means a requirement. Furthermore, before a doctor can freeze anyone’s eggs, a comprehensive medical history has to be taken. Women who do not ovulate, who release less than one egg per monthly cycle on average or who have an equally irregular cycle should not opt to have eggs frozen as it is contraindicated. For these women, the chances of pregnancy are even lower, in spite of it also being an indication for preserving future fertility. Egg freezing can only help if one can expect to have reproductive issues in the future or if they intend to have children in their late 30’s and early 40’s. In other words, the eggs need to be harvested in the best possible condition.

Conclusion

Egg freezing ultimately offers an exciting avenue for women to preserve their egg cells in the event that they lose aspects of fertility and cannot conceive, or wish to conceive at a late age.

As it turns out, the technology is still being perfected, the procedure is very expensive and the results are often highly disappointing. There is also very little data regarding the long-term effects on a woman’s reproductive health, overall health and the health of children born from previously frozen eggs. Egg freezing should not be regarded as a casual procedure for these reasons and more.

If you wish to preserve your oocytes for later use due to a medical condition, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider first and get yourself screened to ensure it is not contraindicated in your case.

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Source:

  • [1] https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/egg-freezing/about/pac-20384556
  • [2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20595948/
  • [3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20729497/
  • [4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24879744/
  • [5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6087539/
  • [6] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314815#costs-and-side-effects
  • [7] https://www.womenshealthmelbourne.com.au/myth-2-the-process-of-egg-freezing-is-easy/
  • [8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4467930/
  • [9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6262467/
  • [10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3963304/
  • [11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4217689/
  • [12] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/freeze-eggs
  • [13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6983294/
  • [14] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9022624/
  • [15] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26627517/
  • [16] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19806512/
  • [17] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19342025/
  • [18] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27653002/
  • [19] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19346187/
  • [20] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32102111/
  • [21] https://jme.bmj.com/content/42/11/738
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