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July 12, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Self-reported stress, anxiety and depression were not associated with a woman’s ability to conceive in a study examining the effects of mental health on the ability to become pregnant, while at the same time looking at stress biomarkers.
The findings appeared online in Fertility and Sterility, an international journal for infertility and human reproductive disorders.
Dr. Courtney Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, found no association between scores on any of the stress, anxiety and depression questionnaires and the ability to become pregnant or the day-specific chance of pregnancy. There was some suggestion, however, that having high levels of social support might aid a woman’s chances of pregnancy.
Lynch and colleagues, in the first study of its kind, studied 339 women in the United Kingdom who previously had completed a baseline questionnaire and daily diaries in which they recorded bleeding, sexual intercourse, smoking and alcohol consumption for six cycles during the period when they were trying to conceive. During days six to 26 of each cycle, the women tested urine, and they also collected a saliva specimen to measure physiologic markers of stress. They also completed a questionnaire on day six of each cycle.
The lack of association between stress, anxiety and depression, and the ability to get pregnant is in contrast to Dr. Lynch and colleagues’ other work that has shown an association between high levels of a stress biomarker, alpha-amylase, and women’s chances of pregnancy.
The result was not completely unexpected, as stress in particular has been shown to be particularly difficult to measure via questionnaire, said Lynch.
“Physicians would like to be able to have an easy way to identify women experiencing high levels of stress that might be impacting their fertility,” said Lynch. “Unfortunately, the well-known screening questionnaires used in the study proved not to be helpful in that they showed little to no correlation with either of the physiologic measures of stress that were collected at the same time.”
One reason for the lack of association with the ability to get pregnant, Lynch said, could be that the researchers measured self-reported stress at the beginning of the menstrual cycle rather than at the end after conception could have occurred. Perhaps stress at the end of a woman’s cycle is the most important. Further, Lynch noted that women in her study did not report particularly high levels of perceived stress, anxiety or depression.
Lynch suggests future research needs to study women reporting high levels of stress and stress, anxiety and depression, to collect information on stress and mood during different phases of the menstrual cycle as well as couples who have been trying to conceive without success for at least six months, as those women could be the ones with the highest stress levels.
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