Being Unable to Conceive

Infertility troubles can increase risk of mental disorders

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) The stress of dealing with infertility take both a physical and emotional toll on women's bodies. Now, there's evidence that this stress can lead to mental health conditions as well.

A recent unpublished study being presented at a fertility conference found a link between infertility problems and psychiatric disorders.

"Seek support when experiencing infertility."

In a study led by Birgitte Baldur-Felskov, MD, an epidemiologist from the Danish Cancer Research Center in Copenhagen, researchers looked at health records of 98,737 Danish women who were seeking help with infertility between 1973 and 2008.

They compared these to the Danish Psychiatric Central Registry, a national database of hospitalizations for psychiatric disorders.

The registry divided the disorders into six subgroups: "alcohol and intoxicant abuse," "schizophrenia and psychoses," "affective disorders including depression," "anxiety, adjustment and obsessive compulsive disorder," "eating disorders," and "other mental disorders."

Over an average of 12 years of follow-up, 54 percent of the women had a baby. Over the same time, 4,677 women were hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder.

The researchers compared the women who had a baby after their first evaluation for infertility to the women who did not have a baby and found an increased risk for the childless women for a variety of mental health issues.

The childless women were at a slightly higher risk, compared to those who were eventually able to have a child, for mental disorders of any kind combined (1.2 times, or 18 percent, more likely), but they were twice as likely to be hospitalized for alcohol abuse.

They were also 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for "schizophrenia and psychoses" (47 percent more likely) or for "other mental disorders" (43 percent more likely). They were slightly less likely to be hospitalized for depression.

There were no significant differences between the two groups for prevalence of anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorders or eating disorders.

"Our results showed that women with fertility problems who did not have a child after the initial infertility evaluation may face an increased risk for psychiatric disorders including abuse, schizophrenia/psychoses and other mental disorders, but a decreased risk for depression," the authors concluded.

"The results suggest that failure to succeed after presenting for fertility investigation may be an important risk modifier for psychiatric disorders," Dr. Baldur-Felskov said. "This adds an important component to the counseling of women being investigated and treated for infertility."

"Specialists and other healthcare personnel working with infertile patients should also be sensitive to the potential for psychiatric disorders among this patient group," she said.

The study was presented July 2 at the 28th annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Istanbul. Because the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, its results should be regarded as preliminary and still require review by researchers in the field.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 3, 2012
Last Updated:
July 5, 2012