In North America, 20 to 25 percent of women and 18 to 21 percent of men of reproductive age report daily psychological stress. Although previous research has suggested that stress can decrease the odds of conception, few studies have examined this association among couples from the general population.
Now, a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers finds higher levels of stress are associated with lower odds of conception for women, but not for men. The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
“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,” says BUSPH doctoral student Amelia Wesselink, the study’s lead author.
The researchers followed 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. They measured perceived stress using the 10-item version of the perceived stress scale (PSS), which is designed to assess how unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overwhelming an individual finds their life circumstances.
The researchers found women with PSS scores of at least 25 were 13 percent 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 old. The researchers did not find an association between men’s PSS score and the likelihood of conceiving.