How Egg Quality Affects Fertility

Poor egg quality is a common cause of infertility, but does not necessarily spell the end of your chances of getting pregnant. Help is definitely available, and there are plenty of reliable, quality resources to help women gain knowledge and take the right steps towards health and fertility.

Popular belief suggests that the only thing that matters in fertility is the number of eggs that a woman has available. This is hardly true, as fertility is more importantly a matter of quality of eggs, more so than simply quantity. It is important to remember that women’s health has important implications, and the reproductive organs are no exception.

Quality Eggs Divide and Develop Properly

Egg quality refers to the degree of sustainability and health of a woman’s ova, or eggs, and how prepared the ova are to develop upon fertilization by healthy sperm. An ova needs to have exactly 23 chromosomes to combine with the 23 that are found in sperm.

Like all cells in the human body, eggs require energy, and contain mitochondria. Mitochondria are cell organelles that produce energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Every egg has mitochondria, but as you age, these organelles become less efficient at producing ATP. Without enough energy, a fertilized egg will cease to divide and develop into an embryo. This mechanism supports the widely known fact that pregnancies in older women are less successful.

Egg quality is closely linked to a woman’s age. Sexually active women in their teenage years and into their mid-twenties who are trying to become pregnant have around a 40% chance of achieving conception every cycle. After age 40, their chances decrease to less than 25%.

Among the effects of poor egg quality on fertility include difficulty in conception, inability of the fertilized egg to implant, or losing the developing embryo or fetus while in utero. There are several stages along the process of getting pregnant where things can go wrong as a result of poor egg quality.

How to Test the Quality of Your Eggs

Women who are in their late 30s (37 is the usual cutoff) who are having a hard time getting pregnant are prime candidates for testing egg quality. To evaluate egg quality, there are some typical examinations done, such as the Day 3 FSH test, wherein elevated levels may be a sign of poor egg quality. Also the Clomid Challenge Test, which checks for estradiol levels is another indicator. In-vitro fertilization, considered as a solution for infertility, has some diagnostic value in determining egg quality as well.

Treating Poor Egg Quality

There are several fertility treatments that can be used to improve conception. Female infertility drugs such as clomiphene and bromocriptine have been used with much success. In-vitro fertilization, as mentioned above, has made advances in improving struggling couples’ chances at parenthood. In addition, more therapies using healthy donated eggs are under investigation, such as cytoplasmic transfer and nuclear transfer. Although these are not yet widely available, they do spell hope for women with poor egg quality.