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Does stress affect IVF?

Consumer Reports News: February 28, 2011 11:39 AM

I started hearing the stories soon after I entered my 40s and close friends began having difficulty getting pregnant:

  • "I was just reading about a woman who didn't get pregnant until she stopped actively trying and decided to adopt."
  • "This high-powered corporate lawyer had given up on having a baby. But then she switched jobs and, right away, she was pregnant."

Although the stories vary, the underlying message is essentially the same: that stress--whether from the strain of trying to conceive or the rigors of daily life--can hinder a woman's chances of getting pregnant.

This is only a theory, and it's based more on anecdotes than evidence. Even so, these accounts often give hope to women struggling with their fertility. Perhaps changing their lifestyle, or just being more laid back about getting pregnant, could make a real difference.

But there's also a less positive subtext: that women who are under a lot of stress or pressure may be sabotaging their own fertility hopes. This is a particular worry for women having intensive (and expensive) fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Might their level of stress actually keep the treatment from working?

A new review of studies provides an unequivocal answer: no.

The researchers pooled the results of 14 studies with 3,583 women having one cycle of IVF or another type of assisted reproductive technology. The women's level of emotional distress was measured before treatment, using standardized tests that gauge anxiety and symptoms of depression.

The researchers found no link between the women's level of emotional distress and their chances of becoming pregnant after these treatments. Those who didn't conceive were no more likely to have high levels of anxiety, stress, or depression than those who did become pregnant.

To verify these findings, the researchers recalculated their results several times to adjust for differences among the studies, such as how they'd assessed the women's stress and whether they'd included women who'd had IVF before. Still, they found no link between stress and whether the women conceived.

What you need to know. If you're having IVF or a similar fertility treatment, it's natural to feel some stress and anxiety, as such high hopes are pinned on its success. However, this study should reassure you that these feelings, and other stresses in your life, shouldn't affect how well the treatment works.

--Sophie Ramsey, patient editor, BMJ Group has partnered with The BMJ Group to monitor the latest medical research and assess the evidence to help you decide which news you should use.

Aaron Bailey

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