Chances of IVF success ‘futile’ for women over 44, says study

Women should be advised to have IVF with donor eggs instead of their own when they reach the age of 44 to boost their chances of success, fertility doctors have said.

Researchers in Spain found that the chances of women having a baby through IVF was only 1.3% in those aged 44 and above, but stood at 24% in those aged 38 to 39.

Dr Marta Devesa at the Hospital Universitari Quirón-Dexeus in Barcelona, Spain, said the dramatic decline in live births could be avoided if older women froze their eggs by the time they reached 35, or used donor eggs, which come from younger women.

“Women of 44 or older should be fully informed about their real chances of a live birth and counselled in favour of egg donation,” she told the European Society for Human Reproduction meeting in Lisbon on Tuesday.

Her comments come in the wake of a 12-year study of live birth rates, involving more than 4000 women at the hospital, revealed the sharp decline in success rates among women in their mid-40s. The findings revealed that among 40 to 41-year-olds, the IVF success rate was 15.6%, a number that dropped to 6.6% in those aged 42 and 43.

“There is a clinically relevant decline from 41 to 42 – but the prognosis is really futile from 44 and onwards,” Devesa said.

Doctors familiar with the study said that many women may be unaware of the crash in fertility that occurs beyond the age of 35, while some could be fooled into unrealistic expectations by media stories of celebrities starting families in their 40s.

The fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, has long publicised very similar success rates from UK clinics. According to their figures, a woman’s chances of having a baby through IVF stand at 32% under the age of 35 and fall to 1.9% once she is 45 or over.

Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist at Hammersmith hospital said that many women were likely to be shocked at the sharp decline in fertility among women in their early 40s. The drop in fertility is thought to be caused by genetic damage that builds up in older eggs. The latest figures, he said, could help promote more “realistic expectations” among older women who hoped to start a family.

Adam Balen, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said: “Whilst you hear lots of good news stories about celebrities who may have given birth at an older age, nobody knows the number of celebrities who may not have been able to have babies, either because of infertility or possibly even having had fertility treatment that has been unsuccessful.”