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Infertile Couples More Likely To Suffer Depression, Anxiety

January 3, 2009

A new Italian study finds that anxiety, depression and certain other mental health conditions are more prevalent among infertile couples than those who are not infertile.

The small study, led by Dr. Chiara Sbaragli of the University of Siena School of Medicine in Italy, suggests that mental health screenings might be beneficial to those being treated for infertility, researchers say.

Although most of the 81 infertile couples involved in the study did not experience any of the psychiatric conditions the researchers looked for, they did have higher rates of certain disorders when compared with 70 couples that were not infertile.

The biggest discrepancy was in the diagnosis of “adjustment disorder,” something that refers to symptoms of depression and anxiety in response to an identifiable cause.  In this case, that cause was likely patients’ infertility. 

The researchers found the discrepancy was particular notable among women.  Among infertile women, 28 percent had an adjustment disorder marked by anxiety and depression, compared with only 3 percent of fertile women. Furthermore, 18 percent of infertile women currently had binge-eating disorder, while none of the fertile women did, reported the researchers.

Among men, infertility patients had higher rates of “subclinical” obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobia.  “Subclinical” means signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders were present, but not in a degree to which a diagnosis could be made.

The researchers said it wasn’t possible to determine whether these mental health conditions were the result of, rather than a contributing factor to, the patients’ infertility. In the case of adjustment disorders, it’s likely that patients’ symptoms were a response to their fertility problems, Sbaragli and her colleagues wrote in a report about the study.

However, these symptoms could perhaps make it harder for patients to recover from infertility, the researchers added.  Indeed, the effects of anxiety and on the body’s nervous system, for example, could affect reproductive function.

If larger studies confirm the current findings, doctors may choose to  routinely screen infertile patients for anxiety disorders, depression and eating disorders, the researchers said.

The study was published in the December 2008 journal Fertility and Sterility.  

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