Infertility – Is Stress the cause?

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Infertility is defined as the inability of a couple to conceive after one year of trying and where pregnancy has not occurred. Infertility affects 1 in 7 couples, and although the majority go on to conceive naturally some wont.

Secondary infertility is where a couple has been able to conceive in the past, but is know not able to do so after a year of trying.

Infertility is the most common reason for females aged 20 - 45 to visit a GP, after pregnancy.  The main causes of infertility is unexplained infertility where there is no identified cause, ovulatory disorders including PCOS, hormonal imbalance, endometriosis, and uterus abnormalities. Male factors such as semen quality, adequacy and quantity are also key in achieving a successful pregnancy.

Infertility and Stress

Feeling out of control? Juggling fertility treatments? Timing sex?

These are just some of the things which may be affecting your stress levels on your fertility journey. Stress changes to the body's biochemistry and rhythms and can upset the body's natural balance over time. Many of us are often unaware of how stressed and anxious we actually are generally and this can easily escalate when faced with infertility challenges.

Stress hormones can affect the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which in turn affects the ovaries. In women under stress, prolactin is overproduced, which may result in an interference with their ovulation cycle. The hypothalamus halts the release of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone, which stops luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormones from functioning. As these hormones stimulate ovulation, it may then be difficult to fall pregnant.

Infertility and Stress Research

Stress can sometimes contribute to infertility.

Scientists found if you have a high level of stress hormones, you may no longer regularly ovulate and therefore it is unlikely you will conceive. Findings also concluded that simple 'talking therapies' can help you to reverse the effect of stress, therefore potentially boosting your chances of becoming pregnant.

This study which was undertaken with women, who were normal weight, in their twenties and thirties but had not had a period for six months.  They found these women had high levels of  cortisol, a hormone linked to stress.

Some of the women undertook CBT,  cognitive behavioural therapy, and the rest were given no treatment. The purpose was to give participants a better sense of perspective and improved self-worth to help them cut their stress levels.  After five months 80 per cent of those women who had been given CBT therapy were ovulating again. This compared with 25 per cent in the control group.

The conclusion of this study was that there are many women who could benefit from stress reduction in order to aid infertility.

Ovulation And Stress

Research by experts at the University of California at San Diego and published in Fertility and Sterility in 2005 found that women with a lot of stress ovulated 20% fewer eggs. Those who were able to ovulate were 20% less likely to be able to conceive.

PTSD Effect On Sperm for IUI

Researchers in this study examined the effects of PTSD on sperm quality and found that even low levels of PTSD are associated with increased risk of infertility.

51 patients who were having treatment for infertility, were divided into two groups; the first, consisting of 21 who were involved in the war in Kosovo, with an established diagnosis of PTSD. The second group of 30 people who had not lived in Kosovo during wartime and were not showing any signs of PTSD.

It was found that secondary infertility was higher in those presenting with PSTD, 62% vs 20% even though the total number of sperm and semen volume had no significant differences between the groups. There was also no difference in sperm motility between the PTSD group and the control group, however the number of abnormalities in the sperm of patients with PTSD was higher and mobility reduced.

Results showed that the percentage of pregnancies resulting from IUI procedure was slightly higher in patients with PTSD than the control group without PTSD, 19% verses 16.6%. The conclusion was combining analytical therapy techniques and assisted reproductive techniques like IUI procedures can help treat infertility in patients with PTSD.

Stress and Stopping IVF

In 2004 Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Göteborg, Sweden carried out a study looking at the reasons why couples stop fertility treatment. The number one reason to stop fertility treatment, 26%, was the psychological stress of infertility and the IVF process. The other reasons were a poor prognosis, 25%, spontaneous pregnancy in 19%, physical burden in 6%, serious disease in 2%, and other reasons in 7%.

In this study the IVF treatment was subsidised so this does not account for the financial burden often experienced in the UK.

If you feel that you could benefit from addressing some of your stresses, that may be affecting your physical or emotional well-being on your infertility journey, with Hypnotherapy for Infertility then do contact me for an initial conversation.

I look forward to hearing from you

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