The influence of infertility and in vitro fertilization treatment on postpartum and long-term mental health in women
Abstract: Introduction: It is estimated that about 10-15% of couples suffer from infertility, i.e. the inability to achieve a clinical pregnancy after at least one year of regular, unprotected intercourse and that between 2-5% of births are a result of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment. Infertility and its treatment can have adverse effects on psychological well-being. While previous studies on postpartum depression (PPD) in IVF women suffer some methodological issues, there are no published studies on the risk of postpartum psychosis (PPP) after IVF pregnancies. Long-term, most women adjust well emotionally after IVF treatment but some, especially the childless, still suffer negative consequences. Meanwhile, few studies have extended beyond the first decade after treatment. Some studies have found that the childless elderly have social networks of less support potential but most show that psychological well-being is not affected by parental status. None of the studies have focused on the oldest old (≥85 years) and many have excluded those who live in institutional care, thus the frailest.Objective: The overall aim of this thesis was to study postpartum mental health in women who have undergone IVF treatment, using psychiatric diagnoses as outcomes, while controlling for major PPD and PPP risk factors as well as to determine the influences of childlessness, infertility and IVF treatment on long-term mental health in women. Materials and methods: Studies I-II are register-based, case control studies of 3532 (I) and 10,412 (II) primiparous women included in the Swedish IVF register. A control group of 8,553 (I) and 18,624 (II) primiparous women with spontaneous conceptions was selected from the Medical Birth Register. The main outcomes were PPD and PPP diagnoses the 1st year postpartum collected from the National Patient Register. Studies III-IV are cross-sectional. Study III included 470 women who had undergone IVF treatment 20-23 years previously. The Symptom Checklist-90 was used to investigate self-reported mental health. The results were compared with those from a population-based study and by parental status group. Study IV included 496 85-year olds. Psychological well-being, living situation, demographics and social network was investigated through a questionnaire and an interview.Results: Study I-II: There were no differences between the IVF and control group in the risk of receiving a PPD or PPP diagnosis. Having previously been diagnosed with any psychiatric, an affective or personality disorder increased the risk of PPD while any previous psychiatric, psychotic, bipolar, depressive, anxiety or personality disorder diagnosis increased the risk of PPP. None of the women had committed suicide. Study III: The IVF women reported symptoms of higher intensity and were at increased risk of symptoms of depression, obsessive-compulsion and somatisation compared with the reference group. Childless women, compared with parents, reported a higher level of mental health problems as well as symptoms of depression and phobic anxiety. Study IV: No differences in psychological wellbeing, living situation or having friends close by were found across parental status groups. The childless 85-year olds were less likely to have relatives close by and to receive help.Discussion: This thesis indicates that the risk of receiving a PPD or PPP diagnosis from in- or outpatient psychiatric care or of committing suicide during the first year postpartum is not increased in women who have undergone IVF treatment. Any negative effects of infertility and its treatment might have been mitigated by the “healthy patient effect”; those who choose to enter treatment are generally psychologically robust. A history of mental illness is a major risk factor for PPD and PPP. The risk of some adverse symptoms of mental illness might be increased in women who have undergone IVF treatment twenty years previously, especially in those who have remained childless. The childless elderly appear to have social networks of less support potential but are not more likely to live in institutional care and do not experience more adverse effects on psychological well-being than the elderly who are parents.
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