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Embryo Cryopreservation

Embryo Cryopreservation

Embryo cryopreservation refers to the freezing of an embryo with the goal of maintaining its viability upon thawing. This procedure is commonly practiced during an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle when more embryos are generated than will be implanted during that particular cycle. Couples may choose to cryopreserve extra embryos for future implantation attempts.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the national average percentages of embryo transfers resulting in live births from fresh versus frozen embryos generated from non-donor eggs in 2010 were:

Age Fresh Embryos Frozen Embryos
<35 47.6% 38.4%
35-37 38.3% 34.7%
38-40 28.1% 28.4%
41-42 16.7% 21.5%
43-44 7.4% 16.8%
>44 1.8% 13%

When to Consider Embryo Cryopreservation

The option to preserve extra embryos produced during an IVF cycle eliminates the need to perform the ovarian stimulation, egg and sperm retrieval, and fertilization steps during future IVF cycles, thereby reducing cumulative risk and cost associated with IVF.  Also, the option to freeze excess embryos rather than use them during a single IVF cycle reduces the risk of pregnancy with multiples.  If any frozen embryos will not be used for future IVF cycles, the couple must decide if they will be donated to other individuals for implantation, used for research, or properly disposed of.

Embryo cryopreservation is also a method for preserving fertility for couples in which one person must undergo treatment that is likely to affect fertility such as chemotherapy.


Risks and Side Effects

The risks associated with embryo cryopreservation involve those related to the process of obtaining eggs. Medications used to stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs may cause headaches, mood swings, abdominal pain, and bloating. Risks associated with the egg retrieval procedure include anesthesia-related risks, bleeding, infection, and injury to organs in close proximity to the ovaries.

Some embryos may be damaged during the freeze/thaw process and may not be used for future IVF cycles.


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References & Sources

Bedoschi G, Oktay K (2013) Current approach to fertility preservation by embryo cryopreservation. Fertil Steril 99:1496-502.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. 2010 Assisted Reproductive Technology Fertility Clinic Success Rates Report. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2012.

Other Contributors: Brittany L. Coughlin, M.A.

Date Reviewed: 7/7/2016