Fit and healthy doesn’t always mean fertile

I was listening to a woman talking yesterday about access to IVF for women in their mid-forties. She thought the NHS should fund treatment for women who were past the age of 42 (which is the current cut off recommended by NICE) if they were “fit and healthy”.  It’s a point of view that some may share – that age isn’t as important as how you look after your body and that those who eat well, who exercise and who appear younger than their years must still be fertile.

In fact, fertility doesn’t work that way; of course, being fit and healthy is always going to help, but by the time you reach your mid-forties, it’s your personal biological clock which is more important when it comes to your chances of conceiving –  and that’s not something that any amount of healthy eating can alter.

The HFEA success rates for IVF show this very clearly; women who are 35 and under have an average chance of success of 32% but for 38-39 year olds this is already reduced to 20%.  Once you get into your forties, the decline is very sharp – for a woman of 40-42 there is a 13% chance of success, at 43-44 that drops to 5% and over 45s have a less than 2% chance of getting pregnant with IVF.  So no matter how fit and healthy you may feel, your chances of IVF success in your mid-forties are very low.

It’s a difficult message, and one that we don’t always want to hear – but the one thing IVF cannot do is turn back the biological clock.

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