Depression may impair fertility

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Study: Severely depressed women have a lower chance of becoming pregnant. Medication does not appear to be the cause.

Severe depression seems to impair fertility – regardless of treatment with psychotropic medication. This is the outcome of a study carried out by US researchers published in the “American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology”.

More than 2,100 women aged between 21 and 45 years who planned to become pregnant participated in the study carried out by researchers at Boston University (Massachusetts). The scientists examined factors that may impair fertility. Participants were asked to report their current depressive symptoms and use of psychotropic medications. Of these women, 22 per cent reported to have been clinically diagnosed with depression at some point in their medical history. 17.2 per cent were former users of psychotropic medications, and 10.3 per cent were current users of these medications.

According to the results, women with severe depressive symptoms were 38 per cent less likely to become pregnant in a normal menstrual cycle compared to participants with no or low symptoms of depression. It made no difference whether or not those affected had taken psychotropic medications.

In addition, the results showed that taking benzodiazepines led to a decrease in fertility. In contrast, earlier treatment with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) increased the chance of conception. However, absolute numbers of those affected were too small; further trials are therefore needed.

The underlying reasons for the association between depression and fertility are still unknown. There are several potential mechanisms, but they still need to be studied further. This includes the fact that depression has been associated with dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which may have an impact on the menstrual cycle and impair fertility.

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