Can Stress Cause Infertility?

There’s nothing more disappointing than a negative pregnancy test when you’ve been trying to get pregnant for months. And the longer you’re forced to wait, the more stress builds as a result.

Unfortunately, it’s a troubling pattern to get into; the greater the stress, the greater the chance that it’ll be even harder to get pregnant.

According to a recent study, researchers have discovered a connection between women with high levels of a stress biomarker and an increased risk of infertility. Although doctors have theorized about the role stress plays in infertility for years, this is the first study to provide scientific support.

“Stress, if very significant, can cause women to have difficulty ovulating,” says Dr. Larry Barmat, a board-certified fertility specialist at Abington Reproductive Medicine. “Severe stressful situations will cause irregular ovulation or prevent ovulation and reduce one’s fertility.”

The issue is a complicated one.

When meeting with a patient who’s having trouble conceiving, Dr. Barmat says that one of the first things he determines is whether or not the woman is ovulating.

If she is ovulating and is under stress, it becomes more difficult to determine the true impact of stress on fertility because stress is so difficult to gauge objectively. According to Dr. Barmat, “Everyone responds to stressful situations differently; someone may not appear stressed overtly, but, internally, if you measure stress hormones, it can be high, and vice versa.”

If a woman is not ovulating, it’s clear that stress is playing a role in the issue and that it should be controlled.

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But what’s causing the stress in the first place?

While there are a number of potential causes of stress, Dr. Barmat says undergoing fertility testing and treatment is definitely one of them.

“It is very important as a reproductive endocrinologist to assess how a patient is handling stress and address ways to manage it,” he adds.

Other factors such as work, marital strain, and other personal life stresses might cause anxiety as well.

“In general, the American population is a relatively stressed population because everyone’s working very hard in this difficult economy,” says Dr. Barmat. “There are a number of external and internal factors that are weighing heavily on patients.”

As a result, it’s imperative that doctors help their patients find ways to relieve stress to improve their chances of getting pregnant.

At Abington Reproductive Medicine, the staff takes the role of stress in infertility very seriously. To help patients, they offer counseling by social workers and psychologists, support groups, and more. They also refer patients to acupuncture (some women find that it’s an effective method to reduce stress) and music therapy, which they found helped reduce stress and improve pregnancy rates during a study they conducted at Abington Memorial Hospital. In addition to their office location at the hospital, Abington Reproductive Medicine has six other office locations for your convenience: Langhorne, Doylestown, East Norriton, Lansdale, Paoli, and Lancaster.

Whatever the approach, Dr. Barmat says it’s important that stress is properly managed. And, as more research is conducted, doctors hopefully will learn more about the ways in which stress influences fertility and how they can better help patients.

“It’s good we’re seeing more scientific studies evaluating this,” Dr. Barmat says. “We can begin taking a more-active role in the methods to reduce stress.”

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