Infertile Men & Greater Risk of Health Problems
Infertility affects approximately 15% of partners, with male infertility contributing to half the cases. Surprisingly, men with fertility problems are at significantly higher risks for health issues that are unrelated to fertility than fertile men.
A recent study compared 13,027 infertile men and 28,860 fertile men and found interesting health outcomes. Infertile men had a 30% higher risk of diabetes, 48% higher risk of heart disease, 48% higher risk of alcohol abuse and 67% higher risk of dug abuse. These chronic diseases developed in the years following an infertility diagnosis. Researchers also compared the infertile men with 79,099 men who have had a vasectomy but were presumed to be fertile. Similarly, they found higher rates of health conditions in the infertile men.
Overall, the study participants were young, healthy men in their 30’s. The study adjusted results for age, obesity, smoking, and healthcare utilization. However, race and lifestyle were not evaluated.
Infertile Men And High Risk for Unrelated Health Problems
Though the study didn’t establish any correlation, there are some theories about why infertile men experience increased risk for unrelated health problems. Lower levels of testosterone may contribute to heart disease and harmful environmental exposure that led to fertility issues could have also led to health issues.
“Exposures that occur in utero can have lasting effects on the rest of your life,” The study’s lead author, Michael Eisenberg, MD, assistant professor of urology and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford, said. “So maybe some of these same exposures that set men up later in life for things like heart disease could also set them up for things like lower sperm count.”
In addition, research needs to be done on treatments for diabetes, heart disease, and alcohol and drug abuse and fertility. It’s possible that treatments for these chronic diseases are causing fertility problems or that poor semen production causes other health problems.
A separate study found the connection between fertility and cancer risk – men with low sperm counts are ten times more likely to be diagnosed with testicular cancer than fertile men. Another study yet found poor semen quality decreases life expectancy.
Despite the unknown causes of infertility and health risks, Eisenberg noted that he hopes the study will encourage infertile men to seek health care. Infertility can often be a warning sign for other health problems. Even if men aren’t actively trying to have kids, it may be useful for them to have semen production evaluated, in order to gauge general health.