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.