After a year abroad, studies and climbing the first rungs of the career ladder, the biological clock is already ticking for many women: at the age of 35, not only does fertility decline rapidly, but so does the biological quality of the eggs. Many women fear that pregnancy will then be a long time coming or even become a problem. Is Social Freezing a solution? Reproduction physician Dr.
Michael Amrani from the VivaNeo Fertility Clinic in Wiesbaden explains what you need to know about this method:
- What is Social Freezing?
- How are the eggs preserved?
- How are the oocytes retrieved?
- What are the side effects/risks?
- At what age should the oocytes be retrieved?
- What are the chances of getting pregnant after cryogenics?
- What does Social Freezing cost?
- Social freezing pro and contra
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What is Social Freezing?
“Social freezing is a form of cryopreservation,” explains Dr Amrani, “It involves retrieving and freezing eggs with the aim of carrying out artificial insemination at a later stage of life – if natural conception does not occur at that time.
Freezing eggs and sperm cells is not a new method. The method has been used for a long time, especially for young cancer patients, to enable them to become pregnant after chemo- or radiotherapy. In Social Freezing, this method is not used on medical grounds, but to cheat the natural aging process. With Social Freezing, women can build up a fertility reserve in order to fulfil their desire to have children at a later point in time when natural fertility is decreasing.
What exactly is cryopreservation, how does it work?
Storage tank for frozen eggs © Jomwaschara Komvorm / Shutterstock.com
“Cryopreservation generally refers to the storage of cells and tissues at temperatures of minus 196 degrees Celsius,” says the reproductive physician. “In fertility medicine, the procedure is used to preserve sperm cells, testicular tissue, fertilised and unfertilised eggs or ovarian tissue. After removal, the tissues or cells are usually brought together with a special nutrient medium. The cells can then be rapidly cooled down in liquid nitrogen to -196 degrees Celsius.
The liquid contained in the cells and the nutrient medium change into a glassy state that is resistant to the formation of harmful ice crystals.
What is the egg collection procedure in Social Freezing?
In order to obtain the eggs, women have to undergo hormone treatment. In order for the procedure to be worthwhile, several eggs, at best around 30, should mature simultaneously. The eggs are then retrieved under anaesthetic at the optimum time. In order for several eggs to mature, women must regularly receive hormone injections into the subcutaneous fat tissue on their abdomen or thigh.
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What are the side effects/risks?
“Hormone stimulation can certainly cause side effects such as hyperstimulation and pain – but this varies from patient to patient,” says Amrani. Very rarely, it can lead to life-threatening hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS ) come.
“The risks of the removal are manageable, as it is a relatively minor procedure that we usually perform under short anaesthesia,” says Dr Amrani.
How many eggs can be frozen?
The number is not limited. The more eggs are frozen, the higher the chances of achieving pregnancy in a future artificial insemination. Dr. Amrani: “This is because usually only a part of the mature cells is genetically perfect and can therefore lead to pregnancy. So the limiting factor is not how many eggs can be frozen, but how many eggs can be retrieved from the woman. There is no time limit for the duration of the cryopreservation of an egg cell.
At what age should the oocytes be retrieved?
“In general, the quality and the remaining rest of the oocytes decrease continuously from about the age of thirty onwards. That’s why it makes sense to use Social Freezing as early as possible,” explains Dr Amrani.
Up to what age can I freeze my eggs?
“In general, more eggs are needed with increasing age to achieve pregnancy and live birth,” says the gynaecologist. “If the egg reserve decreases due to age, social freezing should be reconsidered, as the effort may no longer be in proportion to the chances of success.
Up to what age can women be given their eggs back?
“Egg cells that have been removed – whether from social freezing or directly as part of a treatment – are then fertilised in a process known as in vitro fertilisation, or IVF If a resulting embryo is successfully implanted in the uterus, even relatively old women can successfully carry a child,” explains Dr. Amrani.
However, the risks of pregnancy complications increase with age, so one should realistically discuss and have one’s biological-medical limitations assessed by a trusted reproductive health professional.
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What is the success rate for Social Freezing?
3d microscopic enlargement of four eggs in a Petri dish during in vitro fertilization © Phonlamai Photo / Shutterstock.com
Whether a IVF -The chances of success do not depend on whether the treatment is carried out with frozen or fresh eggs, according to the reproduction expert: “The quality and quantity of the eggs available are the most important factors. At our fertility centre VivaNeo, the pregnancy rate after a IVF -…treatments at approximately 35 percent.”
Are the chances of pregnancy lower than with natural conception?
“The chances of a successful pregnancy are about as high with in vitro fertilization as with natural conception,” says Amrani. “The biological conditions and medical findings of the woman are decisive. In cryopreservation, the number of frozen eggs and the age of the woman at the time of freezing play a major role. Cryotechnology itself has now become so mature that no restrictions are to be expected.
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What does Social Freezing cost?
A cycle with drugs, examinations, interventions and cryopreservation measures could cost between 4,000 and 5,000 euros.
In Germany, the statutory health insurance funds only support artificial insemination in married couples if the woman is no older than 40 and the man no older than 50. This cost coverage does not apply to cryopreservation measures. Here, there is usually no support from the statutory health insurance companies and only sometimes from private health insurance companies.
Social freezing pro and contra
At the latest since some renowned American companies have been offering young managers the opportunity to cover the costs of social freezing, the topic has also been hotly debated in Germany.
Whether because of their professional career or because they have not yet found the right partner for starting a family, the possibilities of social freezing are also attractive to many women in Germany: Those who have the necessary financial means can considerably increase their window of opportunity for pregnancy and thus equalize the reproductive time frame of men.
But beyond what is feasible, you should not forget that Social Freezing is no guarantee for a late pregnancy. Also consider that pregnancy and also raising children is an enormous physical burden, which becomes heavier the older you are. Before deciding on Social Freezing, you should also think about what to do with your unused cryopreserved eggs. Egg cell donations are currently not permitted by law in Germany.