Stress During Fertility Treatments Linked to Heart Issues During Pregnancy

Heightened stress pre-pregnancy, especially while undergoing fertility treatment, can result in heart health issues during pregnancy, according to a new study.

It’s well established that stress can have a serious impact on an individual’s health. New research published Thursday demonstrates just how profoundly stress can impact the cardiovascular health of pregnant women in particular.

The study, published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, found that those with heightened stress right before becoming pregnant had higher blood sugar levels during pregnancy — a clear sign of poorer cardiovascular health.

The results came from self-reported stress levels in 400 women seeking fertility care at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center in Boston, Mass., before they became pregnant. The authors measured the participants’ blood sugar levels in late pregnancy and compared these results to their initial responses, finding that women with high levels of stress before pregnancy were more likely to have high blood sugar during pregnancy.

"We found that maternal stress, evaluated before pregnancy, is negatively associated with cardiovascular health, measured as glucose levels during pregnancy," said study author Lidia Mínguez-Alarcón, Ph.D., in a press release. "Our results highlight the importance of considering preconception as a sensitive window of stress in relation to cardiovascular health during pregnancy."

Overall, societal stress levels have increased in recent years, according to the study. Research demonstrates that stress levels were higher in the 2010s compared with the 1990s, and high levels of stress were observed in a 2020 survey of 1,523 respondents from 48 different countries. The latter is likely at least partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the study explains.

Research also shows that women may experience more stress than men and that fertility struggles often result in even higher levels of stress.

Among the study respondents, those who conceived using intrauterine insemination (IUI) had higher stress and blood sugar levels than those who conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF). The authors believe this may be due to the fact that IUI treatment is often less effective than IVF, resulting in higher stress levels among users.

Mínguez-Alarcón says anyone who is trying to conceive and is worried about their stress levels can reduce their stress by being more active, avoiding alcohol and drugs, eating healthy, and avoiding isolation.

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