"Women who are in infertility treatment do report huge amounts of stress," said Courtney Lynch, the head of reproductive epidemiology at The Ohio State University.
In the current study, Alice Domar of Boston IVF and colleagues recruited 143 women who were about to undergo their first cycle of fertility treatment, and randomly assigned about half of them to a mind-body course intended to curb stress levels. The rest got a gift certificate to a spa.
The mind-body course consisted of 10 weekly classes during which women received talk therapy focused on changing negative thinking and training in relaxation and healthy behaviour.
Scientists then followed the women through two cycles of IVF. A total of 97 women - 46 in the stress-management group and 51 in the control group - completed at least one cycle.
The results were different for the second cycle, when most women taking stress-management classes had gone to at least five sessions. 52% of women taking the course got pregnant, versus 20% of women in the comparison group.
That finding "should give women a lot of hope," said Domar.
Why does stress harm?
Lynch said that chronic stress may cause changes in hormones that interfere with the development of eggs, making them slower to release. It may also interfere with the immune system in a way that increases the chance a woman's body will reject an embryo.
Lynch, who has worked with Domar, said that researchers' current focus is on finding the best program to reduce stress that is also convenient and inexpensive.
Already with fertility treatment, "you have to go to the physician's office many, many times," Lynch said. "What we're trying to do is find an effective at-home intervention. I would hope that we could come out with a book or a video or even a computer program that folks could access to do this."
Dr. Brian Cooper, of Mid-Iowa Fertility, said that this type of stress-management program is "a great option" -- for some patients.
"There's no one magic bullet for everyone," Cooper, who did not participate in the research, told Reuters Health. "Everyone finds their own way to de-stress."
The best way to reduce stress should be a topic for every IVF patient and her doctor to discuss together, he added.
What is your preference for relieving stress?