When Stress Result In Infertility

Kristie Leong M.D.

Infertility is the inability to become pregnant after a year of trying. It may take the form of reoccurance of miscarriages in women and othe forms related to a man too.

Infertility can be a frustrating problem with a variety of underlying causes. There's no doubt that a woman who is infertile experiences various levels of stress due to her inability to conceive. More and more evidence is emerging that stress may actually play a potential role as a cause of infertility.

Of course before infertility can be attributed to stress, physical causes for this problem must be ruled out by a gynecologist. He or she can conduct a series of tests and examinations to exclude structural problems as well as hormone related abnormalities. Once physical causes for infertility are ruled out by a doctor, a trial of stress reduction training might be in order.

What evidence is there that stress plays a role in infertility? Several studies have shown that infertile women who participated in a stress management program were able to conceive and carry out a normal pregnancy within six months of completing the program. In one study, 40% of all women enrolled in a stress reduction study were able to conceive after completing stress management training.

How do stress reduction programs work? In these programs, women learned behavior modification strategies that helped them deal with stressful life circumstances that might be contributing to their infertility. They also received training in how to reduce anger and negative emotions that could indirectly alter reproductive hormone levels. Other techniques used to relieve stress in the infertile women were relaxation exercises, meditation and yoga sessions.

It's still unclear exactly what role stress plays in the causation of infertility. It's possible that stress could have an adverse effect on a woman's hormone levels, particularly a hormone called cortisol which tends to be produced in larger quantities when a women are experiencing stressful life circumstances. These elevated cortisol levels could, in turn, have a negative impact on a woman's reproductive hormone levels, making it difficult for her to conceive. Stress reduction training may have the effect of lowering these elevated cortisol levels, effectively allowing a woman to achieve pregnancy.

A study has shown that a women who scored high on a stress questionnaire also ovulated less frequently, resulting in the production of fewer viable eggs to undergo the fertilization process. Although the exact connection between stress and infertility has yet to be determined, there are ongoing studies and research looking at the exact mechanisms for this association.

Until further research is completed, it certainly wouldn't hurt for a woman to take steps to reduce stress that may be contributing to infertility problems.


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