Age and Your Fertility
There are a variety of different factors that can affect your fertility. From uterine abnormalities, to poor sperm count, the list of fertility problems is almost endless. This can often make it quite difficult to determine the root cause of infertility. However, age is one factor that usually comes to mind when a couple faces pregnancy difficulties. This is because age actually plays a highly significant role in determining female fertility.
Pregnancy Rates and Age
Studies of pregnancy rates and age support the idea that female fertility declines with age. If you have not considered age as a factor in your infertility, you may be unaware of these pregnancy trends.
- Pregnancy rates begin to decline slowly, beginning in the early 30s.
- Throughout the late 30s and early 40s there is an even greater decline in pregnancy rates.
- Few pregnancies are recorded after the age of 45.
- By the age of 30, 7% of couples are infertile.
- By the age of 40, 33% of couples are infertile.
But why exactly do women lose their fertility as they age? What factors play a role in this fertility loss?
Factors Involved in Female Fertility Loss
Egg quantity refers to the number of eggs that you have in your ovaries. At birth, each woman has about 1,000,000 eggs available for fertilization. Only a small minority of these eggs will have the proper quality for fertilization.
Egg Quantity as You Age
As you age, the number of eggs in your ovaries begins to decrease. By the time you begin menstruating you have only about 400,000 eggs available for fertilization. Each month you may produce several eggs for ovulation, but many will die before they are ever fertilizied. By the time menopause arrives, most women only have a few hundred eggs left in their ovaries. Because the number of eggs that you have available for fertilization declines with age, this can make it more difficult to become pregnant as you grow older.
Egg quality refers to how ready and able your eggs are to become fertilized. Every woman carries a certain number of eggs in her ovaries, ready to be released for fertilization. These eggs need to have the right shape, health, and chromosomes in order to be able to develop into an embryo and, eventually, a baby. They also need to be able to combine with sperm in order to produce a child. These characteristics all contribute to your egg quality.
Egg Quality as You Age
Unfortunately, egg quality also changes over time. As you age, your eggs become weaker, and less able to form a healthy embryo. YOur eggs also begin to decrease in number, leaving fewer and fewer quality eggs available for fertilization. A woman of 40 typically has lower egg quality than a woman of 20.
This is not to say that your eggs are of poor quality just because you're aging. Many younger women have poor quality eggs while some older women have very high quality eggs. On average however, egg quality does decline with age.
Complications of Poor Egg Quality
Poor egg quality can lead to a vareity of complications, including:
- unexplained infertility
- IVF or IUI failure
- repeated miscarriages
- chromosomal abnormalities
Testing Fertility Loss as You Age
If you are having troubles conceiving there are some tests available that can help to determine your egg quality. Speak with your reproductive endocrinologist for further details.
Day 3 FSH Testing
Day 3 FSH testing is a test designed to measure follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH is a hormone that helps to stimulate the growth of your eggs. Through a simple blood test, your FSH levels can be determined and used to help analzye your egg quantity. This test is performed on the second or third day of your menstrual cycle.
Treating Fertility Loss as You Age
If you are having difficulties getting pregnant and fear that your infertility may be due to the aging process, you do have some options.
Fertility drugs can help to increase the number of eggs that your ovaries release every month. This can help to increase your chances of becoming pregnant. There are a wide variety of fertility drugs available through your fertility clinic. Commonly used medications include clomiphene and menotropins.
In-vitro fertilization can be used to help retrieve viable eggs from your ovaries and implant them in your uterus. A number of eggs will be surgically aspirated from your ovaries. These are then fertilized using your partner's sperm. Once fertilization has taken place, a number of embryos are implanted into your uterus.