Stress and Infertility: Cause or Effect?
Does stress affect fertility or is it infertility that has negative effects on psychology? Fertility experts indicate that there is a bidirectional relationship between stress and infertility. Most commonly, infertility is treated as a purely medical problem even though psychological aspects of it are perhaps equally important.
Whether stress affects fertility or infertility itself is responsible for increased stress levels, has been a major conflict among fertility specialists for a long time and still remains a controversial issue. Research suggests that this is probably not a one way street; meaning that stress can impact fertility but infertility may also have mood effects in a drastic way.
At some cases of unexplained infertility (when a medical cause for infertility cannot be found and no successful outcome can be achieved even after IVF treatment), there might be a psychological factor that hinders natural course of conception. This is called ‘’psychogenic infertility’’ and is related to a deeper unconscious desire of preventing pregnancy.
It is true that the causal role of psychological disturbances remains controversial. However, there are mechanisms which could explain in theory how depression could cause infertility. These mechanisms involve the physiology of the depressed state. Since stress is related to similar physiology effects as depression, it is possible that high levels of it can more or less impact fertility.
An example of stress impact on female fertility is hyperprolactinemia. A condition at which prolactin over production inhibits ovulation and as a consequence impacts fertility. In less severe cases high prolactin levels may only disrupt ovulation once in a while.
On the other hand, it is known that infertility, as all chronic illnesses, could cause couples to experience high levels of cumulative stress which eventually can lead to more serious psychological disturbances like depression. Especially IVF treatment can be a highly stressful procedure for subfertile couples. For many couples IVF is their last chance of having a biological child and this can lead to severe emotional distress.
For all the above, perhaps a mind-body approach to fertility treatment could possibly help couples who struggle with infertility to deal with their problem in a more effective way. Mind body medicine could perhaps be beneficial, not only for those diagnosed with unexplained infertility, but to all couples who are trying to achieve pregnancy.