Ask the Doctor: How can a 50-year-old woman get pregnant?
Posted Monday, October 14 2013 at 00:00
Dear doctor, I hear in Uganda today, doctors can make a woman who is over 50 years pregnant. But my little knowledge of biology tells me that at that age, women will have stopped their periods, and therefore will have no eggs. How is this possible?
Dear Moderate, rather than make such a woman pregnant, doctors can help them to conceive. Menopause literally means cessation of periods. This happens as a result of complete exhaustion of eggs in the ovaries. Menopause can happen when a woman is in her 40s or 50s, when the possibility of pregnancy usually disappears, and a woman has not experienced her periods for an entire year.
Today, even after menopause, a woman can be assisted to get pregnant. But since she will not have eggs then, she has to get them from a donor. That said, even if a woman has not yet had menopause, at 50 years the egg quality is poor, with a greater risk of conceiving an abnormal baby. Due to paternal age effects, older men may also have an increased risk of fathering a baby with genetic defects but in contrast to women, they generally remain fertile throughout their lives.
Therefore, for such a woman to conceive, the egg from a donor is fertilised in the lab, and introduced in the womb, in what is dubbed a test tube. This is medically known as In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).
In peculiar circumstances like treatment of a woman aged below 35 year with irradiation, her eggs can be freeze-stored and later used to get her pregnant with her own eggs, even when she may be in menopause. Using a donor’s egg can get you pregnant and therefore a baby, but genetically, the baby will not be yours.
It is advised that women get pregnant early, 35 years and below, when their bodies are healthy enough to bring forth a healthy baby without causing or leaving complications with the mother or the child.
Getting pregnant at 50 years or over, apart from being a difficult process requiring special expertise and equipment, increases the risk of pregnancy induced diabetes or hypertension, delivery by caesarean section, prematurity and miscarriage.
Dear doctor, whenever I am going into my periods, my legs swell so that where the shoes pass, there remains a hole. I have been examined for kidney, heart, and liver disease, but nothing has been found. The doctor surprisingly said I was normal. What do you think is happening?
Dear Bamutura, oedema is the swelling of the body due to excess fluid trapped in the body’s tissues. The swelling commonly occurs in the hands, arms, ankles, legs and feet. When pressed with say a finger, or shoes, a dent will form in what is known as pitting oedema. This oedema usually indicates leakage of fluids from blood vessels especially small ones called capillaries (tiny blood vessels) resulting in swelling of the surrounding area.
This could be due to capillary damage, or increased pressure in the veins. Unfortunately, loss of fluid then will cause the kidneys to accumulate higher than normal quantities of sodium (salt) and water in order to compensate for the capillary fluid loss. This leads to increased fluid and pressure in blood vessels, which in turn causes more capillary leakage into the surrounding tissues, resulting in more swelling.
Women may notice swelling of their feet during menstruation or a few days before that. This occurs due to fluid retention related to a fall in the levels of the sex hormone progesterone.
Increasing water and other fluids intake that helps flush out extra salt from the body, cutting down on salt intake (salt being a common culprit in causing oedema), reducing on intake of salty foods like chips, taking garlic or fruits like pineapple which cause one to pass a lot of urine apart from regular exercise like walking can help reduce the swelling.
Socks which have tight bands on the top can also cause swelling of the feet while support socks without tight bands can be helpful.
Massaging and elevating the legs while sitting, or in bed may also help reduce the swelling. If none of the above work, you need to consult your doctor who may prescribe a drug which may cause you to pass a lot of urine (diuretics). It is recommended that you take it during the day to avoid disturbing your sleep at night.
There are many causes of oedema of the legs including heart, kidney and liver problems apart from anaemia, the reason your doctor checked them out and because they were normal you were told that your problem was not serious.