Feature: IVF 'is one of many options for couples struggling with infertility'

24 October 2011

Women trying to have a baby may face some difficulties if things are not going as planned. With the average age for women to have children getting higher and higher due to people favouring their careers before starting a family, the number of females opting for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) methods may rise.

According to various healthcare research studies, the optimum time to have a child is in the early 20s when most eggs are produced and the libido is at its peak. Women who wait until they are in their late 20s or 30s may face additional problems when trying to conceive, for example lower egg counts and not being able to initially conceive.

Higher risks during pregnancy are also prevalent for older mothers-to-be, such as a greater likelihood of the child having Down's syndrome, a chromosomal condition where an extra 21st chromosome is partly or wholly present.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the typical age for women to have children is rising year-on-year and is now at an average of 30.

In vitro fertilisation may be an option for couples trying to conceive.

A recent study showed that one in six couples delay the decision to have a family and therefore minimise their chances of conceiving.

Researchers who questioned people purchasing tickets to The Fertility Show, which will take place in London in November, found that less than a third of people would be comfortable paying for egg donation. The survey found that just 29 per cent of infertile couples considering using donated eggs would want their donor to be paid a fee.

This research comes at the same time as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's debate on whether donors should be compensated for their deed, the maximum currently available being £250 for travel expenses.

Reasons for infertility can lie with a man or a woman and sometimes the exact causes are not immediately known.

A study by researchers at Imperial College London looked at tissue samples from the womb lining, donated by 106 women who were being treated at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust either for unexplained infertility or for recurrent pregnancy loss. It found that an enzyme that acts as a 'fertility switch' could cause the infertility.

The enzyme, SGK1, caused lower levels of conceiving when found in high doses, the study showed.

Leader of the study Madhuri Salker said: "We found that low levels of SGK1 make the womb lining vulnerable to cellular stress, which might explain why low SGK1 was more common in women who have had recurrent miscarriage.

"In the future, we might take biopsies of the womb lining to identify abnormalities that might give them a higher risk of pregnancy complications, so that we can start treating them before they get pregnant."

Scientists also found that blocking the enzyme could have a short-lived effect, as low levels of the protein after conception seem to be linked to miscarriage.

Women who are experiencing difficulty getting pregnant or who have had a miscarriage can look to online sources such as forums for comfort and support. The effects of sharing the experience with others who are in the same position can have significant psychological benefits, another study discovered.

The University of Michigan Health System surveyed 1,000 women on 18 message boards and found that more than half of the women used the forums to make themselves feel like their experience was not unique. The women also turned to message boards to find new information about their next step towards conception.

Researchers also found that only half of the women surveyed were in their first year of loss after a pregnancy, while many were still coping with the emotional impact five, ten and even 20 years later, showing that childbirth is an important and influential part of many females' lives.

Becoming pregnant gets more difficult as people get older, but women are faced with many options of fertility treatment that could help them to conceive. Ongoing research and debates surrounding artificial fertility methods make it clear that support is available and that couples who are struggling to have a child by themselves can turn towards healthcare services for their next step in trying to become a family.

By Jeanette Royston

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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