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Can reducing stress really improve IVF success rates?

9 May 2011
Appeared in BioNews 606

Women who attended a mind and body course shortly before undergoing IVF demonstrated increased pregnancy rates compared with those that did not, a US study has found. The findings suggest that stress relief may increase the likelihood of becoming pregnant from IVF.

'Women who are in fertility treatment do report huge amounts of stress', said Dr Courtney Lynch, head of reproductive epidemiology at the Ohio State University, commenting on the study. 'One of the reasons IVF is not as effective as we'd like it to be is that some couples don't make it to cycle two and cycle three because they're so stressed out'.

Around 140 women seeking IVF were originally recruited to the study and were divided into two groups. Around half were asked to attend weekly sessions of a mind and body program designed to reduce stress levels. Ninety-seven women underwent their first cycle of IVF resulting in a combined pregnancy rate of 43 percent. By the end of the second cycle, 52 percent of women in the group that attended the classes fell pregnant, compared with 20 percent of women in the group that didn't.

The difference in the pregnancy rates between the two IVF cycles might be because over half of the women on the mind and body program had not been to any of their classes by the start of their first cycle and therefore did not have the chance to acquire new relaxation skills, the authors of the study said. In contrast, by the time of their second IVF cycle, 76 percent had attended at least half of their mind and body classes.

The effect of stress on IVF remains unclear, however. Although some interventions have previously been shown to be an effective stress management approach, a recent review of 14 studies that used various ways of measuring anxiety or depression and included women undergoing several kinds of fertility treatments concluded stress does not affect IVF success rates.

Although many women undergoing fertility treatments appear to experience higher levels of stress, 'we don't know if the infertility caused the stress or the stress caused the infertility', said Dr Lynch.



The study was conducted by researchers from Boston IVF and Harvard Medical School. It was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility.


Impact of a group mind/body intervention on pregnancy rates in IVF patients
Fertility and Sterility |  15 April 2011
Stress relief may improve IVF success
Reuters Health |  5 May 2011
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