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Stress and Infertility

Doctors offer insights on how daily stress can disrupt fertility -- and how relaxation can help.

The Science of Stress and Fertility continued...

But it's not just natural (unassisted) pregnancies that are affected. In research published in Fertility and Sterility in 2005, experts at the University of California at San Diego reported that stress may play a role in the success of infertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization (IVF).

After administering a series of questionnaires designed to measure patients' stress levels, the researchers found that women who scored highest -- indicating the highest levels of stress -- had ovulated 20% fewer eggs compared with women who were less stressed.

Moreover, of those who were able to produce eggs, those who were most stressed were 20% less likely to achieve fertilization success.

Is Stress Affecting Your Fertility?

Advances in infertility treatments are such that for nearly every block causing infertility, there is a 60% to 70% chance that a medical fix can turn those baby-making odds around, says Jamie A. Grifo, MD, PhD, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology at the NYU Medical Center in New York City. He says "even if stress is causing a problem -- such as poor-quality eggs -- there are medications and procedures that can help."

However, for up to 40% of couples, no discernable reason for infertility can be found. And it is in this group that Morgan believes the effects of stress are most profound.

"Twenty years ago the rate of unexplained infertility was between 10% and 20%. Today I see up to 40%. Women's bodies aren't different, but their stress levels are, and combined with the ticking of the biological clock, I believe it sets the stage for infertility," says Morgan.

Moreover, doctors say often the stress of actually undergoing infertility treatments can be so great it can stop even the most successful procedures from working.

"The whole process of undergoing fertility treatment is pretty nerve racking, partly because it's a series of hurdles that must be jumped at each step of the way. It's a period of time that in and of itself is very stressful," says Dorothy Greenfeld, MSW, director of behavioral services at the Yale Fertility Center of Yale University.

If you already have problems with stress, she says, the treatments themselves can definitely turn your tension up a notch or two.

Overcoming Infertility Stress

While it may be a while before the pathway between stress and infertility is clear, what is known right now is that reducing stress levels seems to help.

Some research in this area shows that, for many women, acupuncture could hold the key.

In studies conducted in Germany and published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, women enrolled in an infertility program underwent acupuncture treatments just prior to and just after an embryo transfer into the uterus -- the final step in an in vitro fertilization procedure.

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