A new study funded by the National Institute of Health shows that depression in male partners may be a contributor to infertility.
Women who were depressed were not found to contribute to infertility, according to the study.
The study, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, has also linked antidepressant medications known as non-selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or non-SSRIs, to an increased risk of early pregnancy loss in women who are undergoing infertility treatment.
The study was performed by the Fertility and Infertility Branch of the NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), an organization that works to promote healthy pregnancies and healthy children.
Based on earlier research, the authors of the NIH study found that 41 percent of women who seek fertility treatments experience depression, while almost 50 percent of men who are undergoing IVF treatment are depressed.
The goal of the current study's researchers was to assess how depression could influence couples who were seeking non-IVF interventions for their infertility.
Infertility is defined as difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant after having unprotected sex for a year. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 struggle with the condition.
"Infertility can be a very emotional and frustrating situation for many couples," said Dr. Mona Alqulali, a Clinton, Iowa, OB-GYN.
During the study, the NIH researchers merged information from two previous research projects sponsored by the NICHD's Reproductive Medicine Network.
One of the studies analyzed two drugs designed to induce ovulation in their effectiveness in establishing pregnancy and live births in women diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder that causes the development of enlarged ovaries and ovarian cysts.
The other RPM study examined the ability of three ovulation-inducing medications in establishing pregnancy and live births in couples dealing with unexplained infertility.
In both studies, male and female participants were given questionnaires to screen for depression. In each study, men and women responded to a survey designed to screen for depression. Only the women were asked whether they were taking any antidepressants, while male participants were not asked if they were taking medication for their depression.
The researchers investigated the data and responses collected from 1,650 women and 1,608 men and found that almost 6 percent of women reported having active major depression while 2.28 percent of men reported having active major depression.
Women who were taking non-SSRI medication to treat their depression had a 3.5 times greater risk of having a first-trimester miscarriage than those who were not taking antidepressant medication.
Couples in which the male partner experienced major depression had a 60 percent less likely chance to conceive and have a live birth than couples in which the male partner did not have a major depression diagnosis.
The findings are fascinating to Alqulali.
"Infertility causes have often been chalked up to things like age, reproductive organ abnormalities, ovulation disorders or other health conditions such as diabetes or cancer - in women. Identifying depression in men is a significant finding for those couples experiencing unexplained infertility," Alqulali said.
She hopes that the research may also lead to new treatments.
"The revelations regarding the connections between non-SSRI medications and miscarriage and infertility can help health care providers treat women who are experiencing major depression and want to get pregnant," said Alqulali.
The NIH study did not include couples who underwent IVF treatment for their infertility. These couples were excluded from the study because the researchers felt that including IVF treatment could cancel out the possible side effects of depression such as low libido and reduced sperm quality.
NIH/Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "Male depression may lower pregnancy chances among infertile couples: Study also links women's use of non-SSRI antidepressants to early pregnancy loss." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 May 2018