Friday, July 08, 2011

Why do doctors blame stress for irregular periods ?

As an infertility specialist, I see a number of infertile couples who’ve been to other gynecologists before coming to me. Often they will have a simple problem such as irregular cycles which are because of anovulation, and which can be treated by taking medicines to induce ovulation . Ideally, the doctor should explain that the irregular periods are a result of not ovulating; that the cause for this can be diagnosed with ultrasound scans and blood tests; and that this can be treated by taking medicines to induce ovulation.

However, a lot of doctors will glibly say “ Oh , don’t worry, your irregular periods are because you take too much stress – it’s “all in your head” ! They tell the patients that if she gets rid of the stress , the periods will become regular. Of course that’s not true, but what’s worse is that this is like blaming the victim ! As it is infertile women have to cope with neighbours, relatives, mother in laws , mothers and husbands who go on and on about how if you just learn how to relax , you’d get pregnant. When the doctors say something like this it’s like adding insult to injury.

Not only does this add to the infertile woman’s guilt complex, she feels this must be true, now that the doctor has granted his medical imprimatur ! This is extremely unhelpful advice. It’s never the stress which causes the infertility; it’s the infertility which causes the stress. Chronic anovulation usually has little to do with stress - it’s usually a simple medical problem which can be treated once the right diagnosis is made.

I think the reason doctors are so happy to put everything down to stress is partly because that’s what their patients expect to hear ; and partly because it’s so much easier to move your patient out of your clinic by saying “ Ah, it’s all because of stress , if you relax everything will be fine”. I think we need to understand that’s not an adequate explanation. Patients need better medical care and they should learn to demand this !
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