Does anxiety deter IVF success?

Among women undergoing fertility treatment, symptoms of anxiety and depression do not seem to reduce their chances of becoming pregnant, a new study suggests.

The findings, say researchers, should offer women some reassurance that such psychological symptoms do not have a strong effect on in vitro fertilisation (IVF) success.

The multicenter study enrolled 783 Dutch women having their first fertility treatment. The women were asked to complete a questionnaire to assess anxiety and depression symptoms when they were put on the waiting list, 1 or 2 months before the procedure, and 1 day before the treatment.

A total of 421 women had complete information available for analysis. Overall, anxiety and depression symptoms were unrelated to the odds of becoming pregnant. These signs of psychological distress were also unrelated to the cancellation rates.

The findings do not minimise the importance of psychological well-being in women having IVF, the researchers report in the journal Human Reproduction. Studies show that many women suffer anxiety and depression after a failed IVF attempt, and research is still needed to see how to best identify and treat these women.

What's more, "stress" should be considered a "wide concept," and this study did not look at all the forms stress can take - or the possible impact on IVF success, explained lead researcher Dr. Bea Lintsen of Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center in the Netherlands.

Still, Lintsen said, "The message can be reassuring. The chance of pregnancy seems not be influenced by anxiety or depression."

Some past studies have linked psychological distress to a lower likelihood of IVF success, while others have found no such connection. This study, according to the researchers, appears to be the largest one to date to look at this relationship.

They point out, however, that further large studies are needed to "reveal more information about the interrelationship between emotions and fertility."

For now, Lintsen said, it's possible that counseling women that there is a low likelihood that depression or anxiety symptoms will harm their IVF success may actually improve their mental health.

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