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...
"Stress may cause one set of reactions in one woman, and something else in another, so ultimately the reasons behind how or why stress impacts fertility may also be very individual," says Pisarska.
While doctors may not know the exact links between stress and fertility, a series of studies shows the impact is hard to ignore.
In research published in the journal Human Reproduction, doctors compared pregnancy rates in couples that reported being stressed and those who were not.
What they found: Pregnancy was much more likely to occur during months when couples reported feeling "good" -- happy and relaxed. It was less likely to occur during the months they reported feeling tense or anxious.
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.