Research: The Relationship Between Stress and Infertility
A Synopsis for Harvard Medical International and their Centers of Excellence and Constituents
Alice D. Domar, Ph.D.
The Mind Body Centre for Women’s Health at Boston IVF
Infertility has been defined by the World Health Organization as “the inability of a couple to bring pregnancy to term after a year or more of regular unprotected intercourse”. Approximately 10-15 percent of couples of childbearing age experience infertility. The psychological impact of infertility can be profound and depressive symptoms are more common in the infertile population than in matched fertile women.Approximately 10 percent of infertile women meet the criteria for a major depressive episode, 30-50 percent report depressive symptoms, and 66 percent report feeling depressed after infertility treatment failure. The majority of infertile women report that infertility is the most upsetting experience of their lives. Infertile women report equivalent levels of anxiety and depression as women with cancer, HIV status or heart disease.
Recent research indicates that psychological distress may impair fertility and that depressive symptoms may reduce the efficacy of infertility treatment. Several studies conducted within the past three years support the theory that psychological distress can have a significant adverse impact on successive rates in vitro fertilization (IVF). In one of the studies, women with depressive symptoms were half as likely to conceive as women who were not depressed, and in the most recent study of 151 women scheduled to undergo an IVF cycle the chance of a live birth was 93 percent higher in women with the highest positive-affect score. Researchers have concluded that the success rates of high-tech infertility treatment can be adversely affected by psychological stress.
Mind/body treatment of infertility patients has been shown to both increase pregnancy rates as well as reducing psychological distress. In a recent study conducted at the MBMI, 185 women who had been trying to conceive for one to two years were randomized into either a 10 week mind/body group, a ten week support group, or a routine care control group. The birth rates during the one year follow up period were as follows: – Mind/body 55%, support 54%, and controls 20%. In addition the mind/body patients reported significantly greater psychological improvements than the support or control patients. Patients in the clinical Mind/Body Program for Infertility show benefits as well; in four published studies on several hundred women with an infertility duration of 3.5 years, 42 percent conceived within six months of completing the program and there were significant decreases in all measured psychological symptoms including depression, anxiety and anger.
Infertile women report elevated levels of psychological distress and this distress may reduce their chances of conceiving. Mind/body treatment has been shown to be effective in both significantly increasing pregnancy rates as well as reducing psychological stress.