Women's adjustment trajectories during IVF and impact on mental health 11-17 years later

Hum Reprod. 2016 Aug;31(8):1788-98. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dew131. Epub 2016 Jun 9.


Study question: Do patients present different adjustment trajectories during and after IVF treatment?

Summary answer: Most women show resilient trajectories during and after IVF treatment but 37% show temporary or chronic maladjustment during IVF and 10% are maladjusted 11-17 years after treatment.

What is known already: Research on patient psychosocial adjustment during treatment has contributed to identifying the most distressful stages of IVF treatment and profiling patients at risk for emotional maladjustment at these specific stages. This knowledge is currently driving the deliverance of psychosocial care at fertility clinics by tailoring it to patients' risk profiles and specific treatment stages. However, current care does not take into consideration how individuals adjust across the entire treatment pathway. This can be assessed by profiling individual adjustment trajectories.

Study design, size, duration: A longitudinal cohort study with five assessment moments that combines data from two different studies, the STRESSIVF and OMEGA projects. Participants enrolled in the STRESSIVF study (started IVF in 1998-2000) were assessed before and after the first IVF treatment cycle and 6 months and 2.5 years after the last IVF cycle. A subset participated in the OMEGA project (started IVF in 1995-2000) and reported on their mental health 11-17 years after treatment.

Participants/materials, setting, methods: Three hundred and forty-eight women participated in the STRESSIVF project and 108 of these in the OMEGA. Anxiety was measured with the State and Trait Anxiety Inventory, depression with the Beck Depression Inventory and mental health with the Mental Health Inventory. Latent class growth mixed modelling was carried out to identify distinct anxiety and depression trajectories over the four STRESSIVF study assessment moments. Multinominal logistic regressions were conducted to investigate predictors of trajectory membership, and stepwise linear regressions were performed to investigate if adjustment trajectories predicted mental health 11-17 years after IVF treatment.

Main results and the role of chance: A total of 67 and 86% of women showed normal levels of anxiety and depression, respectively, throughout treatment (resilient trajectories), 24 and 33% experienced anxiety and depression only during treatment (recovery trajectories), 4.6 and 4.9% experienced anxiety and depression only after treatment (delayed trajectories), and 4.3% showed chronic anxiety (chronic trajectory, not identified for depression). Non-resilient trajectories were associated with unsuccessful treatment, marital dissatisfaction, lack of social support and negative infertility cognitions. One in 10 women had a delayed or chronic trajectory and these trajectories predicted serious mental health impairment 11-17 years after treatment.

Limitations, reasons for caution: The study only focuses on women. In the OMEGA project adjustment was assessed using a mental health measure. Although we could investigate how trajectories predicted mental health, it would have been preferable to map anxiety and depression trajectories up to 11-17 years after treatment. Missing analysis showed selective dropout from the study but this was accounted for by using mixed models and imputation procedures. Finally, data on other life stressors were not collected; therefore any contribution from these events cannot be assessed.

Wider implications of the findings: Fertility health-care providers have been called upon considering their responsibility in supporting patients in the aftermath of treatment. Results show it is possible to profile different groups of at-risk women at the start of the treatment and tailor psychosocial support to risk profile to promote health adjustment during treatment and thereafter.

Study funding/competing interests: This study was supported by a grant from the Dutch Cancer Society (2006-3631) and the Praeventiefonds (28-3012). No competing interests exist.

Keywords: IVF treatment; anxiety; depression; infertility; trajectories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Emotional Adjustment*
  • Female
  • Fertilization in Vitro / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Female / psychology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mental Health*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Social Support