Stress & Infertility - What You Need to Know
Many couples wonder about the relationship between stress and infertility. While most couples know from personal experience that infertility is stressful, they are less well informed about how stress may affect infertility. Some important findings have emerged regarding this relationship and are presented below.
In general, stress does not seem to be a primary cause of infertility. A medical diagnosis for infertility can be found for about 85% of couples seeking treatment. Even for patients with unexplained infertility, stress is probably not the primary underlying cause. It is more likely that there is a medical cause that is difficult to detect.
Infertility Stress: What Research Shows
While stress may not be a primary cause of infertility, infertility stress may impact treatment outcome. There is growing evidence from research over the past two decades that some types of emotional stress may decrease the chance of pregnancy. Most of these studies have been conducted with IVF patients. A main findings that emerged from these studies is as follows.
Patients who are "worriers" by nature, who tend to be more anxious or nervous in general, are no less likely to conceive from IVF than patients who are not worriers.
Patients who "worry about worrying" may feel reassured by these findings. Contrary to the advice and opinions of well meaning family and friends, worrying about getting pregnant is not going to affect the outcome of your treatment cycle. Excessive worry or anxiety may still interfere with other aspects of your life and relationships, however.
Anxiety and Infertility
An excessive preoccupation with infertility can lead to low self-esteem, increased marital stress, and emotional distance between partners--all possible causes or consequences of anxiety and infertility. Patients who tend to feel anxious may also be more apprehensive about the medical aspects of treatment. Additional support for infertility is often very helpful in addressing these issues.
Depression and Infertility
Many studies suggest a relationship between depression and infertility: depression or negative emotional distress may have an impact on treatment outcome for IVF patients. Patients with symptoms of depression seem less likely to conceive than those who are not depressed.
Even mild to moderate symptoms of depression should be treated in order to optimize the chance of a successful treatment outcome. It is normal to feel some emotional distress when undergoing infertility treatment. We recommend meeting with a counselor who specializes in infertility if you need help sorting out possible symptoms of depression from more typical worries and concerns of patients undergoing infertility treatment.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Feeling down or blue most of the time
- A loss of interest in usual activities
- Low energy
- Difficulty with concentration
- Change in sleep patterns or appetite
- Feeling of hopelessness
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Persistent feeling of guilt or worthlessness
- Persistent irritability
- Preoccupation with negative thoughts or worries
- Withdrawal from friends
Support for Infertility
With many strategies of support for infertility, there are many positive ways to cope with emotional distress and optimize your chance of pregnancy. We can also make a referral to other mental and emotional health professionals who can provide assistance.
ACRM is pleased to offer our patients a weekly support group, free of charge, with Maureen Martin, LCSW, LMFT, facilitating discussions with patients on the journey to parenthood.