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Study: Stress Can Play a Role in Infertility

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For the first time in your life, you may no longer be trying to prevent pregnancy, but getting pregnant is harder than you thought, and it's stressing you out. New research suggests your stress could be affecting your fertility.

Dr. Courtney Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, recently published a study with colleagues analyzing stress and its role in infertility. The study followed 401 couples for 12 months as they tried to conceive. The article, published in the journal Human Reproduction, found an association between women with the highest levels of the salivary stress biomarker alpha-amylase and infertility. The women in this category had a 29 percent lower chance of pregnancy, which was more than twice the risk of infertility by the end of the study.

In a previous study published in Fertility and Sterility in 2011, Lynch and colleagues followed women trying to conceive for six months. In addition to assessing the salivary biomarker, women completed psychosocial questionnaires analyzing their self-reported stress. Almost no correlation was found between the biomarker and the psychosocial rating scale.

"Any sort of stress that affects reproductive outcomes is thought to be a chronic stress issue," Dr. Lynch says. "Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of good paper-and-pencil instruments that assess chronic stress."

Although you can't get a saliva test from your doctor to see if you are stressed, Dr. Lynch has some recommendations for women hoping to conceive.

"If you have been trying to get pregnant for six to 12 months and you have not had success, that seems a reasonable point at which to look at your lifestyle," she says.

She suggests adding a regular amount of moderate exercise, yoga or mindfulness and meditation to your daily activity. At this point no doctor can say absolutely that stress is the cause of your infertility, but these suggestions are shown to improve overall health, which can improve overall fertility. Dr. Lynch says there is a push in the obstetrics and gynecology community to improve preconception health.

"A number of pregnancy-related problems, hypertension, preeclampsia, are all linked back to mom's health when she gets pregnant," Dr. Lynch says.

If you are trying to conceive, you may want to schedule a visit with your doctor to discuss ways to improve your overall health, and you may especially want to schedule a visit if you have been trying to get pregnant for more than 12 months without success.

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