Does Stress Cause Infertility?

Stress has often been considered as one of the underlying factors in infertility. Despite the lack of clinical studies to conclusively prove its role, physicians specializing in fertility problems have time and again noted that it may be an important consideration when treating infertility. The exact role has not been conclusively identified but it is believed to contribute to hormonal changes and possibly exacerbate inflammatory conditions of the female reproductive organs. Collectively this may impede normal fertilization or the ability to successfully continue with a pregnancy to full term.

Stress In All Forms May Be A Problem

Physical and psychological stress can be a component in many diseases. While physical stress may be better understood and is often obvious, psychological stress tends to be vague. It is largely due to the fact the some people refuse to acknowledge that they are undergoing periods of psychological stress while others are not aware that they are in fact stressed. And then there is the problem of what exactly constitutes stress, particularly in the mental and emotional spheres.

Although it is a loosely used term, stress of any form refers to strain to the organism, be it physical or psychological. Modern life has brought about complexities in our personal, career and social lives which may be the actual stress. Some people like those with a type A personality may respond more overtly as compared to those with a type B personality. However, this does not mean that a person who is not ranting and raving is therefore not undergoing stress.

Types of Psychological Stress

Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and even psychotic episodes are only some of the manifestations that may be associated with psychological stress. The actual types of psychological stress can vary from one person to another and one situation to another. It is also influenced by social, cultural and even religious components. The more common types include:

  • Financial stress where the bills and money obligations are piling while the ability to meet it is dwindling.
  • Marital stress where there is discord between a couple with the possibility of separation or divorce. It can also apply to a couple in a serious relation, irrespective of whether they are living together or not.
  • Family stress where there is discord within the nuclear or extended family and in the home.
  • Work stress where a person is unhappy in their work environment or unsatisfied with their job.

There are various other types of stress that can impact the individual, as much as the family unit and even the community, such as crime, political uncertainty, economic downturn and environmental and health concerns.

Stress and Inability to Conceive

While the role of psychological stress is better understood with certain health ailments like hypertension, various cardiac disorders and diabetes mellitus, it is not as clear with infertility. The stress hormones like epinephrine (adrenalin) and cortisol along with other hormonal pathways and inflammatory mediators may affect both men and women in different ways when it comes to reproductive health. What is known is that the physiological process for successfully producing healthy gametes (sperm or egg cells) and the various other factors in being able to conceive and maintain pregnancy is in a delicate state of balance that is easily upset.

Many complementary and some conventional fertility treatment programs consider stress management as a component in addressing infertility. Although the clinical evidence is lacking and pathophysiology unclear, stress management should nevertheless be considered in fertility treatments. At the least it would help a person in having a healthier and happier life but it may in fact reduce the severity of infertility.

References:

Psychological stress and infertility. MedLine Pubmed

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