The Colonial - - OPINION - Linda Finarelli

For a woman un­der­go­ing in vitro fer­til­iza­tion ther­apy, “bring in the harp” may not be her first thought, but there’s some ev­i­dence that it may be ben­e­fi­cial.

“We’ve re­al­ized for a while that stress may have an im­pact on preg­nancy rates,” said Dr. Larry Bar­mat, an ob/gyn spe­cial­iz­ing in re­pro­duc­tive en­docrinol­ogy and in­fer­til­ity at Abing­ton Re­pro­duc­tive Medicine. Are­cent study of pa­tients in­ter­ested in get­ting preg­nant showed that for those with an in­creased sali­vary stress level, the time to preg­nancy was longer, he said.

His own study, pub­lished in April, funded by an In­no­va­tor Cir­cle Grant from Abing­ton Memo­rial Hos­pi­tal, looked at the ef­fect of harp mu­sic ther­apy on stress, he said. In the ran­dom­ized study of 181 women un­der­go­ing IVF ther­apy, some women were ex­posed to 20 min­utes of harp mu­sic be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the em­bryo trans­fer, he said.

With in vitro fer­til­iza­tion, fol­low­ing fer­til­ity treat­ments, a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm are joined in a lab­o­ra­tory dish, and once an em­bryo or em­bryos form, they are placed in the uterus.

In Bar­mat’s study, the women filled out a val­i­dated ques­tion­naire to de­ter­mine their level of stress be­fore the em­bryo trans­fer and again af­ter “to see if there was any change,” Bar­mat said. Their heart rate and blood pres­sure were also mea­sured to see if they were stressed.

“We found a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in stress pa­ram­e­ters [lev­els] af­ter they [the con­trol group] heard harp mu­sic while hav­ing the em­bryo trans­ferred,” he said. “Those ex­posed to the mu­sic ther­apy had a lower level of stress af­ter lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic.”

The mu­sic is live, per­formed by a cer­ti­fied mu­sic ther­a­pist at the back of the pro­ce­dure room, about five min­utes be­fore and five dur­ing the pro­ce­dure and 10 min­utes or so after­ward, Bar­mat said.

The harp has the largest acous­tic range and there is ev­i­dence that mu­sic ther­apy has a pos­i­tive ef­fect on pa­tients, he said, not­ing Abing­ton Memo­rial has a harpist walk­ing around the fa­cil­ity.

The im­pe­tus be­hind his own study, Bar­mat said, was a pa­tient who asked to have a harp played dur­ing her surgery.

“I did a lit­er­a­ture search and got a grant to do the study,” said Bar­mat, a fer­til­ity spe­cial­ist for 19 years, 13 as­so­ci­ated with Abing­ton Memo­rial.

While there “was a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in stress level,” dur­ing the em­bryo trans­fer, the im­pact on preg­nancy rates was not as great.

“We saw a trend of im­proved preg­nancy rates, but not sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant,” Bar­mat said.

Of those in the study, 53 per­cent who achieved 12 weeks of preg­nancy re­ceived harp ther­apy ver­sus 48 per­cent who did not, ac­cord­ing to an ab­stract of the study. The 12-week mark is when the mis­car­riage rate drops, Bar­mat said.

In a study pub­lished in the jour­nal Hu­man Re­pro­duc­tion, a con­nec­tion was found be­tween women with high lev­els of a stress biomarker and an in­creased risk of in­fer­til­ity, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease from Abing­ton Memo­rial.

While there are a num­ber of po­ten­tial causes of stress, un­der­go­ing fer­til­ity test­ing and ther­a­pies is def­i­nitely one of them, Bar­mat said in the re­lease. Work, mar­i­tal stress and other per­sonal life stresses also might cause anx­i­ety.

“Al­most every­one is stressed when they see a fer­til­ity doc­tor,” Bar­mat said. “We ad­dress that… we try to make it user-friendly to them to re­duce the stress of go­ing for fer­til­ity treat­ments.”

Coun­sel­ing by so­cial work­ers and psy­chol­o­gists, sup­port groups and psy­chi­atric re­fer­rals, if med­i­ca­tion is needed, can be pre­scribed to help get through the stress, he said.

“Most pa­tients are stressed, but the ma­jor­ity are able to navigate [the process] with­out see­ing a ther­a­pist or tak­ing med­i­ca­tions,” Bar­mat said.

“Now that we know the ben­e­fit of harp ther­apy we of­fer it to pa­tients as an op­tion,” he said. “Mu­sic ther­apy can be calm­ing.”

Fol­low Linda Finarelli on Twit­ter @lk­finarelli.

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