Stress and its effects on male fertility

By: Dr. Spence Pentland

stress and fertility

Management of stress plays a significant role in optimizing fertility.

In my clinical practice, it is abundantly clear that the management of stress plays a significant role in optimizing fertility.

There is a growing body of evidence that correlates psychological stress such as anxiety and depression to reproductive hormonal imbalance, production of subfertile sperm and poor IVF outcomes.

On a daily basis, I see this type of research confirmed but after an acupuncture session, men leave the clinic with a sense of calm. They tell me that it provides an overall sense of well-being, which is reflected in all aspects of their life from relationships to increased productivity and better sleep.

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Wellness Wednesday: Stress and Infertility – Coping with IVF treatment

Massage and acupuncture can be great forms of release from IVF stress.

Massage and acupuncture can be great forms of stress release.

Susan Lockhart, PhD, MBA, BScN
Director Clinical Operations
Genesis Fertility Centre 

Two weeks ago we discussed stress and infertility. Stress has never conclusively been shown to have a negative impact on the outcome of infertility treatment. However, everyone has experienced stress in their lives and can relate to its negative impact on quality of life. In vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment undoubtedly adds to whatever stress one is already experiencing. As you approach that first day of IVF treatment so many questions are swirling in your head: Can I manage the injections? How will I feel during treatment? Will it work? Then, as treatment progresses and more monitoring  is done: What will my hormone levels be today? Are my ovaries responding? Will I get to egg retrieval? There are also some physical symptoms that may add to stress levels. For example, some women experience breast tenderness, bloating and headaches. There can also be unpredictable mood swings.

How do you cope with all of this? There actually are several ways to minimize stress experienced during IVF treatment, and , everyone is different in what works for them. The Infertility Awareness Association of Canada provides information on resources such as support groups and counseling.  The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has a patient education website  which has information on stress and infertility. There are also a number of books on the topic of stress reduction. One example is Hopeful Heart, Peaceful Mind: Managing Infertility by Carol Fulwiler Jones.

Here at Genesis, a one hour session with a qualified psychological counselor is available with each IVF cycle. The Genesis nursing team is also experienced in providing support for patients during their entire treatment experience.

There are more holistic ways of coping with stress as well.  Some people find acupuncture and massage therapy helpful during their IVF treatment. Examples of Vancouver based clinics can be found at and . Simple things like listening to relaxing music or journaling can also help to reduce stress. Who knows, maybe you’ll come up with a best seller like Lori-Shandle Fox who journalled her infertility experience and wrote Laughing is Conceivable as a result! This may be a bit counter intuitive but aerobic exercise during treatment is very helpful during infertility treatment. Walking (not running) is a great way to “burn off” stress.

Do you have a stress reducing strategy that helps you? Please share with our readers!


Wellness Wednesday: Stress and In Vitro Fertilization Treatment

effect of stress on IVF

By Susan Lockhart, PhD, MBA, BScN

In the scientific community a number of studies have looked at the impact stress has on the outcomes of fertility treatments. While the results are interesting, there has not been strong evidence to suggest that stress itself has either caused infertility or has a negative impact on fertility treatment outcomes. However, most people who have had the experience of infertility would agree that while stress hasn’t necessarily caused their infertility, infertility certainly has caused additional stress in their lives!  Now, add fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the increase of stress can be exponentially higher. Leading up to IVF can be an intense experience. Infertility itself is a life crisis, usually an unanticipated event. Tests, procedures and probing into one’s intimate personal information can, and often does, produce stress. Overall, infertility can impact one’s psychological, emotional, and physical well being. Once the decision is made to pursue IVF there is the additional financial burden. IVF undoubtedly adds to an already stressful situation.

A few years ago, I conducted a study of women and their partners undergoing IVF. At the beginning of their IVF treatment (which was the first day of blood test and ultrasound monitoring) patients were asked to record their level of stress experienced during their IVF treatment at certain time points:  the start of IVF treatment, during hormone injections and monitoring, egg retrieval, waiting for fertilization results, embryo transfer and waiting for pregnancy test result. Not surprisingly, the highest levels of stress for women were waiting for fertilization results and waiting for the results of their pregnancy test. What was interesting was that men recorded their highest stress levels at the same time points as women but with lower scores overall.

So how does this information help? For the health care providers at Genesis, it reinforces when our patients need the most support. For those going through IVF, it alerts them when they need to have self-care measures in place. Previous blogs have focused on ways to help ease stress and increase well being when dealing with infertility and infertility treatment. We will explore in subsequent blogs the different stages of the IVF treatment cycle and what you can do to reduce stress and increase quality of life during this challenging time.

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