Cryopreservation, or egg freezing, gets plenty of press these days thanks, in part, to celebrities opting for cryopreservation as a way to prolong or ensure their fertility.
The egg freezing process is also a blessing for many women who find themselves facing treatment for diseases or medical conditions that may compromise or impair fertility. These can range from treatment for certain cancers to autoimmune diseases to gender reassignment surgery.
What is Cryopreservation and How Does it Work?
Egg freezing is not a new concept. In fact, the process has been a well-established medical procedure for nearly 40 years, and the technology is advancing by the minute.
Egg freezing, cryopreservation and oocyte preservation are all synonymous with preserving eggs for future use. The process begins with a physician consultation, a review of your health history and testing to rule out any conditions that might interfere with the health of your eggs. These include HIV and hepatitis, both of which cause some concerns that your doctor will discuss with you.
If you and your doctor determine that cryopreservation is right for you, below are the next steps:
- Blood work to assess your hormone levels and an ultrasound to look at your ovaries and number of follicles.
- Injectable medication to stimulate your ovaries into maturing several eggs at one time–as opposed to just one egg being released during a normal menstrual cycle.
- Injections that will begin on or about the second day of your menstrual cycle. Individual instructions vary, and you and your doctor will determine what’s best for you.
- Ovary stimulating medication that will continue for eight to 14 days during which you will be monitored with blood tests and ultrasounds to determine when you’ll ovulate.
- A final injection to help your ovaries go through the final step of maturing your eggs. Thirty six hours after the injection, you’ll go in for your egg retrieval.
Egg Retrieval Procedure
During the egg retrieval procedure, you’ll be sedated to minimize discomfort while your doctor inserts a needle-like catheter into your vagina and through your cervix to extract the mature eggs.
Egg retrieval is a clinical in-office procedure and as soon as your sedation wears off, you’ll be discharged. You may experience some cramping and light spotting for the next 24-48 hours, but nothing more than that. If your symptoms do last longer, or are more severe, you should call your doctor right away.
At the time of retrieval, your doctor looks for about 70 percent of your eggs to be fully mature, viable and healthy and ready for freezing.
The freezing process, or vitrification, uses liquid nitrogen to quickly freeze the eggs to a temperature of -320°f. The eggs are stored in a secure tank and kept frozen until you decide to pursue pregnancy.
Becoming Pregnant After Cryopreservation
When that time comes, your eggs are thawed and you’ll begin the IVF process. Your eggs will be fertilized with a partner’s or donor’s sperm, and the resulting embryo will be implanted in your uterus.
If you don’t have a uterus, or have already gone through gender reassignment surgery, you’ll need to have a gestational carrier or surrogate carry your pregnancy.
Cryopreservation Questions and Concerns
There are no known health risks associated with cryopreservation. The ovary stimulating medication may cause some bloating (and perhaps moodiness), but that goes away after the medication stops.
Stimulating your ovaries does put you at higher risk for a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). OHSS can cause fluid to leak into the abdominal cavity and around your lungs, and can be potentially life-threatening if it isn’t caught early. However, because the condition is extremely rare (less than 2%) and you’re being so closely monitored, your doctor will recognize the potential for OHSS and take steps to prevent it from becoming dangerous.
Egg freezing jumped a whopping 31% in 2021. As it’s become more popular, so have concerns about how long eggs can remain frozen and still viable. While most doctors concur eggs can remain frozen indefinitely, the average time eggs stay frozen before IVF is about four years.
The success rate for IVF using frozen eggs is also encouraging, with the average success rate around 39 percent. Women under the age of 35 have a higher rate of success–from between 70-90 percent.
Many patients have also shared concerns about what happens to their unused eggs.You can either dispose of them according to your clinic’s protocol, or possibly donate your unused eggs to a couple in need.
Questions About Cryopreservation? We Have Answers
For more on the cryopreservation process, or for any other fertility concerns, reach out to the team at Rise Fertility. Let us help you grow your family.
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