Background: Comparing stress levels in women entering IVF treatment with those of fertile controls as well as relating these levels to the outcome of IVF.
Methods: State anxiety and personality profiles as well as stress hormones were studied in 22 normally menstruating women entering IVF treatment for tubal infertility. Their personality profiles as well as state anxiety scores measured before entering IVF treatment were related to the outcome of treatment. Twenty-two fertile women served as controls. Stress markers were serum prolactin and cortisol. These were estimated by radioimmunoassay. The psychological evaluation included the Karolinska Scales of Personality (KSP) and state anxiety as measured by the STAI questionnaire. Basal FSH on cycle day 3 and E2 and P4 AUC during the luteal phase were evaluated as hormonal predictors for the outcome of IVF treatment.
Results: Comparison of the personality profiles of the two groups, showed that infertile women had significantly higher scores of suspicion (p>0.05), guilt (p>0.05), and hostility (p>0.01), but lower somatic anxiety (0.05) and indirect aggression (0.05) than fertile controls. The infertile women also had significantly higher levels of prolactin and cortisol throughout the menstrual cycle. Serum cortisol, prolactin and FSH levels on cycle day 3 did not differ between the women who conceived after IVF treatment and those who did not conceive. However, significant differences were found in E2 and P4 AUC (p>0.01) in the luteal phase between those women who became pregnant and those who failed. There was a trend (p<0.06) toward higher state anxiety levels among the women who did not succeed in becoming pregnant after IVF treatment.
Conclusions: The main findings suggest that infertile women have a different personality profile in terms of more suspicion, guilt and hostility as compared to the fertile controls, perhaps as a response to their infertility. Their stress levels in terms of circulating prolactin and cortisol levels were elevated compared to the fertile controls. Psychological stress may affect the outcome of IVF treatment since state anxiety levels among those who did not achieve pregnancy were slightly higher than among those who became pregnant.