Higher levels of stress can lower conception or fertility in women but it does not affect men, finds a study. The researchers, from Boston University in the US, found that the association between higher levels of stress and lower levels of conception could be due to decreased intercourse frequency, increased partner stress discordance and higher levels of menstrual cycle irregularity.
"Although this study does not definitely prove that stress causes infertility, it does provide evidence supporting the integration of mental health care in preconception guidance and care," said Amelia Wesselink, Research Assistant at the varsity. For the new study, published in American Journal of Epidemiology, the team analysed 4,769 women and 1,272 men who did not have a history of infertility and had not been trying to conceive for more than six menstrual cycles.
The team measured perceived stress using the 10-item version of the stress scale (PSS) to assess how unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overwhelming individuals find their life circumstances. On average, baseline PSS scores were about 1 point higher among women than men and the average follow-up PSS scores among women remained fairly constant over the 12 months.
The findings revealed that women with PSS scores of at least 25 were 13 per cent less likely to conceive than women with PSS scores under 10. This association was stronger among women who had been trying to conceive for no more than two menstrual cycles than among women who had been trying for three or more cycles before enrolling. The association was also stronger among women under 35 years.
The researchers did not find an association between men's PSS score and the likelihood of conceiving. However, couples in the study were about 25 per cent less likely to conceive when the man's PSS score was under 10 and the women's was 20 or higher, said the researchers.