Did You Know: Stress Can Reduce Fertility in Women?

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African American Woman Stressed Out

In North America, emotional stress is reported by 20 to 25 percent of women and 18 to 21 percent of men of reproductive age. Although previous research indicates that the odds of conception may decrease, few studies have examined this association among spouses from the overall population.

Currently, a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers finds greater levels of stress are associated with reduced chances of conception for women, but not for guys.

The analysis was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“Although this research doesn’t definitely show that stress causes infertility, it does provide evidence supporting the integration of mental health care in preconception advice and attention,” states BUSPH doctoral student Amelia Wesselink, the study’s lead author.

The researchers used data from the Pregnancy Study Online (PRESTO), a continuing preconception cohort of North American maternity planners that follows couples for 12 months or before pregnancy, whichever comes first. For the new study, the researchers tracked 4,769 girls and 1,272 guys who had been trying to conceive for over six menstrual cycles and didn’t have a history of infertility.

The investigators measured perceived anxiety using the 10-item variant of the perceived stress scale (PSS), which is designed to evaluate how unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overwhelming that an individual finds their life conditions. The things referred to the past month, with five response options ranging from 0 (never) to 4 (very often), up to a total of 40, with a greater total score indicating a greater level of perceived stress. Both partners completed the PSS in baseline, and girls also completed the PSS . The research questionnaires included a range of behavioral and demographic aspects, including diet, household income, race/ethnicity, sleep, and frequency of sex.

On average PSS scores were about 1 point higher among women than men, along with the typical follow-up PSS scores among women remained constant they engaged in the study.

The researchers found women with PSS scores of 25 have been 13 percent less likely to conceive than girls with PSS scores under 10. This association was stronger among women who’d been trying to conceive for no more than two cycles prior to joining PRESTO than among women who’d been searching before enrolling. The association was stronger among women.

The researchers discovered that, if the link between elevated levels of anxiety and lower likelihood of conception is a causal association, a proportion of the association could be caused by decreased intercourse frequency and improved menstrual cycle irregularity.

The investigators didn’t find an association between men’s PSS score along with the likelihood of conceiving. However, couples in the study were about 25 percent less likely to conceive the women’s was 20 and when the PSS score of the man was under 10 or greater. The authors wrote that this is the first study to indicate that “spouse stress discordance” may affect the likelihood of conception.