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Egg freezing to preserve fertility: Risks, side effects of ovarian stimulation | Health

Before Bollywood actor and global icon Priyanka Chopra spoke about freezing her eggs in her 30s, it was a sensitive topic for many but there is no doubt that preservation of eggs has a long history which began in the late-1990s for women about to start cancer treatments that threatened fertility and it has, since then, entered the social realm with its multifarious bearings on women’s lives. If you still wonder what exactly is egg freezing, know that a woman’s fertility can be preserved through freezing (or cryopreservation) of the egg (oocyte) and this helps to empower women to take life decisions despite their biological clocks and focus on other aspects of their life like pursuing a career, handling health issues and finding a life partner.

Egg freezing to preserve fertility: Risks, side effects of ovarian stimulation (Photo by Nadezhda Moryak)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Gopalkrishna Gawde, MBBS DGO DNB at City Fertility Center in Pune, shared, “It has been scientifically proven that with age, the fertility of women and the quality of eggs diminish (and chances of abnormalities increase). Elective egg freezing for women younger than 40 years has emerged as the optimal approach for granting more reproductive autonomy to women. It safeguards against age-related infertility and allows women to be financially, socially, and psychologically ready to birth healthy genetic progeny when they choose to do so.”

According to him, a typical procedure for preserving women’s eggs is oocyte cryopreservation which starts with hormonal stimulation. He revealed, “This is followed by retrieving, freezing, and storing a woman’s eggs. Elective or social egg freezing helps when the eggs are fertilized in vitro (IVF) with sperm, and the resulting embryo is implanted in a womb, with the goal of gestation for live birth. Freezing eggs at an early age increases the chance of storing the healthiest oocytes for becoming a genetic mother later in life. In general terms, the cost for egg preservation is INR 2,00,000 with extended storage, which would entail a price depending on the total period.”

The fertility expert elaborated, “The risks and side effects of ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval are like the ones experienced during IVF since hormonal medicines and damage to tissue from interventions during retrieval are also possible. In addition, damage from improper storage is another risk. In case of success, the risks accompanying pregnancy also exist. When it comes to cryopreservation, higher success rates of pregnancy are when the process is performed before the age of 36, with the success rate of live births diminishing when oocytes are collected from women aged 40 years and above. Advanced maternal age also complicates the embryo transfer process, decreasing the chances of successful pregnancies at a later stage.”

Highlighting another aspect of egg freezing, which is ensuring that the maximum number of eggs are collected and leaving room for success despite unviable eggs, Dr Gopalkrishna Gawde said, “This means more sittings for egg recovery, especially for older patients. Yet, eggs collected at a young age may be utilized, as they have a shelf life of ten years. Doctors must balance the ideal age and the number of oocyte retrieval cycles to ensure the patient can utilize her frozen eggs. The ASRMS (the primary organisation dedicated to assisted reproductive technologies in the US) reckons the survival rates of oocytes (retrieved from women less than 30 years of age) after vitrification and thawing is 90–97 per cent, with fertilization rate of 71-79 per cent, implantation rate 17-41 per cent and clinical pregnancy rate 4.5-12 per cent.”

He concluded, “When women opt for egg freezing, it is essential that a clear and frank discussion with the gynaecologist and fertility specialist. Keeping aside sufficient funds for the process and storage is also vital. Also, opting for egg freezing at a relatively early age could be a good start on this journey of emancipation. In a world where women are pressured to become mothers, egg-freezing could empower them to make their plans at their own pace.”

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