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Women's Health

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Stress May Diminish a Woman's Fertility, Study Suggests

First U.S. review to show a possible link between stress and how long it takes to get pregnant

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The study results were published in the March 24 issue of the journal Human Reproduction.

Lynch said it's important to be clear that the results do not suggest that stress alone is the reason a woman can't get pregnant.

"The message is not that everyone should go enroll in yoga tomorrow," she said. "The message is that if you've tried for five or six months and you aren't getting anywhere, maybe you should look at your lifestyle and think about whether or not stress might be a problem for you. And if it is, you might want to consider a stress-management program."

The authors said this is the first U.S. study to show a possible association between a stress indicator and how long it takes a woman to become pregnant.

Dr. Suleena Kansal Kalra is a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at the University of Pennsylvania. She called the new research "a great first step -- it's presenting a way to measure [indicators] of stress."

"Part of the challenge is that we don't have validated [indicators] of stress hormones or validated questionnaires that measure stress, so the next step is that we really need to start validating some of these tools," said Kalra, who was not involved with the new research. "Ultimately, we want to know how we can measure stress, and then, can we intervene?"

Exactly how stress affects fertility is not well understood, Lynch said. The study's authors said the women in the group with higher levels of the stress-related enzyme had sex about as often as those in the low-level group, so frequency of intercourse did not play a role.

Kalra said some women stop ovulating during stressful times, while others conceive in high-stress environments.

Lynch said the researchers have also collected data on men but have not yet analyzed it, so it's not yet clear how much a man's stress might influence a couple's fertility.

Women struggling with infertility who have stressful lifestyles should not blame themselves, Lynch said. "I don't want women to see this in the news and say, 'It's my fault I'm not pregnant,'" she said. "We know stress is not the major indicator of whether or not you're going to get pregnant."

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