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New Debate on Link Between Stress, Infertility

Study Shows Stress Doesn’t Have Impact on a Single Cycle of a Woman’s Fertility Treatment

Measuring Stress Levels continued...

''Your body prefers to reproduce when all conditions are optimal," she says. But when those conditions don't become reality, the stressed-out woman may decide she is going ahead regardless, Boivin says.

She's not suggesting infertile women ignore the stress of the treatment or everyday life. ''What the stress really does is decrease your quality of life," she says. "People should pay attention to stress and reduce that to improve their quality of life during the treatments."

She gives patients suggestions on how to do so, including a list of tips meant to be helpful, for instance, when women are awaiting news about whether they have become pregnant with fertility treatment. Among the suggestions are to think more about the positive aspects of a difficult situation.

Boivin reports receiving speaker fees from pharmaceutical companies EMD Serono Inc. and Merck & Co., and a research grant from Merck Serono S.A.

Stress Reduction Helpful?

Women who volunteer to be in the studies of stress and infertility are often among the less-stressed women, agreeable to putting in the time required for the study, says Domar, who reviewed the abstract of the study for WebMD.

The body of medical literature does suggest a stress and infertility link, she tells WebMD. "There have been close to 30 studies in the last 15 years looking at the impact of stress on IVF outcome, and most of them did show a positive relationship. The more stress there was, the less likely the woman was to get pregnant."

Together with Boivin, Domar will conduct a study soon to see if stress reduction can reduce dropout rates of those undergoing infertility studies. Merck & Co. will fund the research.

A fertility expert in practice, Richard J. Paulson, MD, also sees value to reducing stress in women undergoing fertility treatment. "There are all kinds of studies that suggest ancillary stress-reducing treatments seem to make a difference in the outcome of ART [assisted reproductive technologies]," he tells WebMD, including research on acupuncture, for instance.

''We think the mind-body approach seems to help," says Paulson, chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles. He directs the fertility program there.

While the study results may be reassuring to women, he says, ''it does not  rule out the benefit of the kind of mind-body interventions that have been studied in other reports and shown to be beneficial."

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