Infertility may cause mental disorders in women

Women who struggle with infertility but never go on to have children are likely to be hospitalised for mental health disorders, researchers have warned.

They also found a significantly higher risk for substance abuse among these women.

Brigitte Baldur-Feskov of the Danish Cancer Society Research Center in Copenhagen, and colleagues, analysed data from 98,737 Danish women who had seen a doctor about infertility between 1973 and 2003.

They determined hospital admissions for mental health disorders among these women over an average of 12.6 years, and discovered some concerning trends.

Of the total women analysed, 4677 were hospitalised with mental health problems. Of these, 2507 had not been successful in producing a child, compared with 2107 women who were able to have at least one child.

Baldur-Feskov’s analysis, which excluded any women with previous diagnoses for mental health problems, also found a significantly higher risk for subsequent drug and alcohol abuse among women who did not go on to have children after an initial fertility consultation.

Of 571 women who were treated for drug and alcohol abuse, 195 had eventually been able to have children compared with 376 who were unsuccessful.

Because the study only looked at mental health problems severe enough to warrant hospitalisation, Baldur-Feskov noted that these figures point to a larger problem.

“I think the tip of the iceberg is the most precise way to put it,” New Scientist quoted her as saying.

As well as the higher risk for substance abuse, the team noted that women who did not go on to have children were 47 per cent more likely to be hospitalised for schizophrenia than those who gave birth.

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The results were presented this week at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Istanbul.

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