While many women complain of psychological distress during infertility treatment, it has been somewhat unclear if the anxiety and depression women may experience is related to having to undergo infertility treatment or to the hormonal agents that are used as part of the treatment, or a combination of the two. While we know that changing levels of gonadal hormones, like estrogen, may affect mood and anxiety levels, we have very little information on the psychological effects of the hormone-modulating drugs used in assisted reproductive technology (ART).
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Multiple small studies have demonstrated a link between infertility and psychological distress, reporting high rates of anxiety and depressive symptoms among women with infertility. These studies have evaluated psychiatric symptoms or psychological distress; however, less is known about the prevalence of more significant psychiatric disorders in this population.
Most women undergoing infertility treatment experience increased anxiety. In a randomized clinical trial, researchers explored the effectiveness of acupuncture in diminishing anxiety in a group of women undergoing IVF. 43 patients undergoing IVF received either active acupuncture (n=22) or sham treatment (n=21). Women with a history of psychiatric illness and those using antidepressants and/or anxiolytic drugs were excluded from the study. Anxiety levels were assessed before and after treatment using the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAS).
It is common for women experiencing infertility and undergoing fertility treatment to experience significant emotional distress. Many women, reasoning that their emotional health influences their physical functioning, worry that the stress and anxiety they experience in this context may hinder their ability to become pregnant.
Psychological symptoms play a significant role in infertility. Some studies have examined the impact of psychological symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression) on fertility status. Most of this research has focused on women with unsuccessful IVF treatment. Some have investigated the extent to which a woman’s psychological state during assisted reproductive therapy (ART, which includes in vitro fertilization (IVF)) interferes with the success of the treatment. ART itself has been shown in other studies to negatively impact a patient’s psychological well-being, with prolonged treatment associated with increased depression and anxiety.